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Calvert 'Larry 'Bud' Melman' DeForest, RIP

I need to play with the template of this blog so I can elegantly post quick little one-line links to things that amuse me, a la the New New sidebar on the old Old is the New New. Then I can resume linking to things like these:

  • I have to admit I thought Twitter was a pretty stupid idea until I saw this, which almost makes living in the future worthwhile.
  • Edit: Taxipunk is the new Clockpunk is the new steampunk. (“You can now create new subgenres of speculative fiction by simply putting “punk” after anything… Taxipunk delves into the sociopolitical ramifications of taxicabs existing in places and times that, in actual history, did not benefit from taxicabs.)
  • Calvert “Larry “Bud” Melman” DeForest is dead, alas.
  • But did you ever think to ask why Fonzie jumped that shark?
  • Confidential to Planetary readers: a mathematician in Maryland appears to have mapped the Snowflake.

Oh, right: those papers I was grading.

Cross-posted from Old is the New New. Comments welcome.
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Just breaking radio silence to say:

Mooninites? Aaaaah ha ha ha ha ha. I miss Boston.

Elected officials said there is no room for battery-powered contraptions in a post Sept. 11 world.

Though I've always liked the other two ATHF aliens better than the Mooninites. Emery and whatsisname. "What do you know of fire? You prance around like you have laser eyes. You don't!"
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So [ profile] peaseblossom linked to the NYT article on the Princess Industrial Complex that looms so large these days in the lives of young girls and their hapless parents. "Sorry, ladies. Your puny second-wave feminism was no match for the power of the Dark Side..."

There's little need for me to repeat the arguments against Disney's sparkly pink Stalinism here. But there were two other things I found interesting about the article: first, the fact that before the 1930s or so, the gender meanings of pink and blue were apparently reversed--"Pink was considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy and faithfulness, was thought to be dainty."--and second, the slightly creepy observation that, by edict from the Mouse itself, the eight Disney princesses never make eye contact with one another--"each stares off in a slightly different direction as if unaware of the others’ presence." No, it's not to forestall Poca-mulan-rella slash-fic, but to "ensure the sanctity of their individual mythologies." Seems to me like a JLA-style League of Extraordinary Princesses would be a no-brainer. They even have the ethnic makeup of the Superfriends: you've got your bunch of WASPs, your token American Indian ("'Apache Chief'? I'm not Apache, and I'm not a chief. How would you like it if I called you 'Minnesota President'?"), your Asian, and your fish. But in fact the princesses slide by one another, never quite deigning to notice each other's presence, like, say, debutantes at a ball rudely crashed by an American Indian, an Asian, and a fish. For those geeks who catalog pop culture crossovers and shared universe continuities, this is a stunning epistemological revelation: characters may appear to inhabit the same universe, but they don't, as long as they don't make eye contact! Think of the crises that could have been avoided if Earth-Prime Superboy and Earth-Two Superman had just tilted their eyes demurely to the floor. Maybe this resolves the Seinfeld-Mad About You-Friends paradox that has threatened the space-time continuum for so long.

The article also mentions the new Disney Fairies line, which the Mouse is positioning to capture the hearts and minds (and wallets and body images) of 'tween girls as they graduate from Princess pink. (Disney Prince and Pirate lines are being developed for boys--which doesn't seem at all the same kind of slam dunk.) We visited friends of ours over the holidays with a daughter deep in the target demographic, and she'd gotten the Disney Fairies hardcover for Christmas. It reminded me of nothing so much as a White Wolf hardcover: gorgeous art, a surprisingly detailed world, and signature character portraits for each of the Fairie splats: Water-Fairies, Garden-Fairies, Goth-Fairies, and so on. [ profile] mgrasso, your next campaign awaits you. I was also amused by the boy-band-esque male fairies, or "Sparrow-Men." Tinkerbell apparently has an admirer named Terence, a muscular young fairie lad who delivers the Pixie dust to all the fairies in Pixie Hollow, and is therefore "more sparkly than the average Sparrow-Man." Why do I think Tink's relationship with Terence is never going to get much farther than fashion tips, catty remarks about Wendy Darling's ankles, and the occasional night out clubbing with the Lost Boys? Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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In case you missed it at Old is the New New / [ profile] robotnikblog:

Mix Your Own Doctor Who Theme Song. Diddly dum, diddly dum, diddly dum, wee wah wooooo!

(A few months into the future from now, you all posted irate "why didn't anyone tell me about this?" posts, so I've come back in time from the Astounding Year 2006!!! to do just that. Wait until you see what happens in the November elections.)
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OR, "I understand you have a lot of unusual names on your baseball team."

'Prisoner' Remake Ready to Roll

British satellite channel Sky One is embarking on a remake of the cult-classic show "The Prisoner." The new series, slated to run for six episodes, would likely premiere sometime next year, 40 years after the original debuted on ITV. Rumors of a new series have been percolating for some time, but Sky One didn't greenlight the project until this week. Several reports in the British press say Christopher Eccleston -- who starred in a revival of another cult favorite, "Doctor Who" -- is in line to play Number 6.
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Everybody else will be doing this, and using the same subject line too, so I'll just get mine in quickly: we saw Serenity last night, and liked it a lot. A completely solid, wholly enjoyable sci-fi film that was by turns funny, scary, sad, surprising, and smart. I think it would work for non-viewers of the series, if any of them ever happen to see it. That's something I'd been seriously doubting before hand. But it also had everything the fanbase needed to see, tying up or at least addressing every hanging thread from the series I can think of.

It's hard not to want to compare it to certain other recent sci-fi films, but "it's better than Revenge of the Sith" sounds like damning with faint praise. So let me amplify: not only is Serenity vastly superior to Revenge of the Sith in every way it is possible to judge a movie, it is superior to Revenge of the Sith in every way it is possible to judge human endeavor at all.

Except, I suppose, profit.
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God speed, little buddy.

(Alas, I don't have the Gilligan icons handy.)


Jun. 15th, 2005 12:20 pm
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That's you! You're a triangle! You!

OK, it's 1997, and can we have something a little more cheerful this time? In my second and third year of grad school, I lived with three friends from the dorms (see, I did make friends in the dorms eventually—they were all Americans, mind you) in a gorgeous apartment in Inman Square, one that four grad students couldn't possibly afford today. Once or twice a year, we threw massive house-shaking parties there. I don't know quite how we did it, to tell the truth. I've never thrown parties like that before or since. But the emails went out, and the guests poured in, and our place would be packed with bodies, some in attractive shapes, and nearly all shimmying and shaking and bumping up against each other in a way that belies my usual portrait of grad school as a social wasteland. This was soon after the Chemical Brothers muscled into the mainstream, and I can remember the aptly-named Block Rocking Beats rattling windows all the way down the street. For years to come, people I'd never met would tell me about the epic parties they attended on Marie Street in 1997.

But my signature memory is not one of the raging parties—it's the hour or two after one of them. Read more... )

Shout-out to Inman Square: Dining too fine to waste on grad students, so get those property values rising! East Coast Grill, the first good place in Boston I managed to take my parents! The Druid, which is fun to say in a ridiculous Irish accent ("tha' DROOOOOOD!"), and where they pass the hat for the I.R.A! Jae's (not there anymore), with great-for-beginners sushi and killer pad thai! 1369, when you absolutely need coffee served by a lesbian but you can't make it all the way to Jamaica Plain! Olé, for awesome $8 guacamole served in an infinitely dense chunk of black hole! The Thirsty Scholar, where I got to hang out with Jim Carroll! That Portuguese sandwich place, where L and I went after several early dates! That Indian place, that wasn't actually that good! That Southern place, that I never went to!
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If you don't read [ profile] papersource, you may not have read that we sold our condo in one country and bought a house in another. All in about four days. The [ profile] papersource and I? We do not screw around.

If you don't read the New York Times magazine, you may not have read this article about Why TV Makes You Smarter. I have my doubts: if watching TV makes you smart, I ought to be like a Harvard PhD or something. But it's a neat article nonetheless.

If you don't read my Ro-Blog (aka [ profile] robotnikblog), you may not have read my post about the above NYT article, and how Hill Street Blues nearly drove me insane once.

If you don't read The Globe and Mail, you may not have read my friend Sean's feature in this Saturday's "Focus" section on skateboarding for grownups. At least I think the piece is about skateboarding for grownups. I haven't read it myself; the online version is available to paid subscribers only. (If only we'd picked up the Globe on our way out of town Saturday. Maybe somebody in Canadia can save me a copy?) But still, it's very cool that Sean (aka [ profile] sneech515) snagged another byline in Canada's newspaper of record. For those of you keeping score at home, this brings the balance of the universe, at least as far as the Globe's "Focus" section is concerned, to All That's Right in the World: 1, Leah McLaren: 517.
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What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
Herbert Simon, way back in 1971

When I admitted to [ profile] jeregenest that I still haven't read word one of the Harry Potter books or seen any of the movies, this poll occurred to me. There's actually a number of geek culture touchstones that have slipped by me. Not because I'm avoiding them, just because I haven't gotten around to them yet. But time and attention are scarce: so I invite you to help me be a better, more efficient geek in 2005. (I've given you check boxes rather than radio buttons, but please use them judiciously. If you just click on everything, you haven't made my life much easier at all.)

[Poll #412488]

Thank you for your support.
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Thanks, everybody, for all your requests and continued feigned interest re: my post of 11/11. I am still taking requests, so keep those cards and letters coming in! One point of clarification: I said I would be taking requests this week. I didn't say when I would be fulfilling them. I'm kinda busy, you know. :) But have no fear, chimps and telephony and sharing and maybe even the fifth Alterna-Canada are all coming down the pipeline eventually.

I will tide you over with one thing, though, since absolutely everyone is clamoring to know: Vicki Lawrence. Of "Mama's Family" fame. Was there ever any doubt? I tried to skew my answers to be Tim Conway, but dude, those quizzes know all.
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You're right, Marge. It's just like the time I could have met Mr. T at the mall. The entire day, I kept saying, "I'll go a little later, I'll go a little later..." And when I got there, they told me he just left. And when I asked the mall guy if he'd ever come back again, he said... he didn't know.

A friend of mine grew up in Chicago. One of the things he liked about living there, he says, was very occasionally running into Mr. T. You'd be walking downtown, and there he'd be, Clubber Lang himself, crossing the street or eating a hot dog. Haircut, gold chains and all. (This would have been in the late 1980s and early 1990s—well after Mr. T's first fifteen minutes of fame, well before his 1-800-COLLECT and inane WWW renaissance.) You'd see him and say, "Hey! That's Mr. T!" and he'd always wave and say, "Hi, kids! Stay in school!" or something similar. And that would be that. You might go home and tell your Mom, "I saw Mr. T today!" "That's nice," your Mom would say.

What delights me about this story (and I should probably spell it out, since I'm sure it's not coming across in the telling), is both the good-naturedness of it and the mundanity. It was a good thing to run into Mr. T, but really not that big a deal. No bigger than seeing, say, a fire truck, or some ducks, or a lady walking a funny-looking dog. "I saw a funny-looking dog, today, Mom!" "That's nice, dear." I wonder if this is how citizens of Metropolis react when they see Aquaman.

Anyway, besides being an excuse to link to lots of Mr. T pages, all this jibber-jabber is just prelude to a story I had to share (with the small number of you reading this who aren't also reading [ profile] bryant). It's MUCH funnier than the one I just told you about Mr. T: Darth Vader Made Me Cry. I'll link to it again, so it doesn't get lost in the forest of Mr. T pages: Darth Vader Made Me Cry. Go read it. Hee hee hee. It has a nice symmetry with the classic Alec Guinness story, too.
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Aha! I can link to the excellent James Bond retrospective I mentioned the other day:

All right, 007, listen carefully: I want you to go and meet a gentleman named Lee. Ang Lee. Born in Taiwan but now, as far as we can gather, working for the Americans. Take him a copy of this novel, Casino Royale. It may look like an ordinary paperback, but concealed within is an array of clever tricks, some of them, I don't mind telling you, on the dodgy side, and—here's the thing—nobody seems to have put it to proper use. There was once a joke version, but that doesn't count. Be a good chap and tell our Mr. Lee to turn the book into a period drama, would you? You know the form: convertible Bentley for you, conical bras for the ladies. Got that?

And while I'm sharing excellent New Yorker articles, here is the best article I've read to date on the master mind behind The Simpsons (no, it's not Matt Groening). I love his take on the decline of the modern sitcom:

When you and I were kids, the average TV comedy was about a witch, or a Martian, or a goofy frontier fort, or a comical Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. That was the mainstream. Now the average comedy is about a bunch of people who hang around in some generic urban setting having conversations and sniping at each other. I remember watching, in the sixties, an episode of Get Smart in which some angry Indians were aiming a sixty-foot arrow at Washington, and Max said something like "That's the second-biggest arrow I've ever seen!" and I thought, Oh, great, shows are just going to keep getting nuttier and nuttier. I never dreamed that television comedy would turn in such a dreary direction, so that all you would see is people in living rooms putting each other down.
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I'm reading and enjoying Glen Gold's Carter Beats The Devil. It's a novel about the adventures of a Houdini-style illusionist in the 1910s and 1920s, who gets mixed up with the mysterious death of Warren Harding, Yale's Skull and Bones society, and the fight for control of television. It's in much the same vein as Kavalier & Clay, and if it's only, say, 75% as good, that's hardly a stinging criticism.

The book gets extra points from me because one of the key supporting characters is the real life Philo T. Farnsworth. Philo Farnsworth was an earnest, gawky farm boy born in an honest-to-gosh log cabin near Beaver City, Utah in 1906. He grew up on a potato farm in Idaho, rode to high school on horseback, and never went to college. When he was nineteen, he pretty much invented electronic television.

The invention of television is a messy, complicated story, and it's almost impossible to pick one single "Inventor of Television" out of the melee of mad Scots and visionary Russians and guys in basements in Cleveland who all had a hand in TV's birth, but Philo is a definite contender. He was the first to use a scanning electron beam to create a picture. All previous efforts were mechanical, and usually involved spinning giant wooden disks. (Lovers of outre steampunk technology take note.)

Philo's story is great—he was just this "aw shucks" milk-drinking Mormon kid who got the idea for the parallel scanning lines of the electronic picture tube while tilling the furrows of his family's potato farm. He married his high school sweetheart at age 19 and said to her on their wedding night, "Pemmie, I have to tell you. There's another woman in my life. Her name is Television."

The whole thing sounds like a made up Boy Inventor story—Tom Swift and His Electronic Picto-Vision! In fact, I often think it should have been one. It could have been serialized in Chum Magazine in the 1940s, or made into a Disney double feature with Davy Crockett, called "The Boy Who Invented Television." Young Philo would have made a great 1950s TV character. He could have worked with the Pinkertons maybe, having wild adventures across the West with his best girl Pemmie at his side, doing battle with his ingenious electrical inventions against the top-hatted fat cats of the evil Radio Trust.

About five years ago, I wrote the script for a comic book called "Channel Ocho," about two crypto-TV-archaeologists that searched for mythical "lost" TV shows. Sort of a Planetary meets Nick-at-Nite kinda thing. The hero and his nemesis were named Farnsworth and Zworykin, after Philo and his main rival. Maybe I should dig that puppy out of mothballs.

Alas, in real life, the top-hatted fat cats of the evil Radio Trust (aka David Sarnoff and RCA) screwed Philo over pretty darn good. He never got the recognition he deserved, and though RCA eventually paid him off for the patents they squeezed out of him, he spent much of his life bitter and unhappy about how he and his great invention had been misused.

There's a couple of books about Philo out now: The Last Lone Inventor, by Evan Schwartz, and The Boy Genius and the Mogul, by Daniel Stashower. There's also this tribute site with the excellent URL All of them basically follow the romantic "noble-lone-inventor-versus-greedy-fat-cats" model. But Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting New Yorker column (saying "interesting Malcolm Gladwell column" is usually redundant, IMHO) about Philo's story, turning the model on his head. Gladwell says the story exposes the value of big corporations, and points out how much happier Philo's life would have been if he'd only worked with RCA rather than tried to go it alone. I don't know. It's one thing to say Philo was naïve and stubborn and that he paid dearly for trying to fight the big boys. It's another thing to say that this is therefore how things ought to be.

But anyway. Mad props to Philo T. That's all I really wanted to say.


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