Sunday, September 30, 2007

Memories of the Space Age

Simon Sellars at Ballardian has a piece on 20th Century Castles - the repurposing of Cold War missile Silos as living spaces.

Minimal Concrete City for Sale: Serious Interested Parties Only!

I'm mentioned as the inhabitant most likely to be seen prowling the underground corridors with my home-made alien hybrids shambling in the air conditioning ducts above me.

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Let's move on to much sunnier things, shall we? The innocent days of World War II, when men were men (with pipes and moustaches called Squiffy) and the Safety of the Free World (tm) was ensured by cerebral geniuses ensconced in much less robust castles such as this one, a hut at Bletchley Park.

Zinc of Finches

We hide behind the masks of the Orient, because the sullen lumbering shapes of the western world strike fear and terror into our limbs, and all is ungrown. Legends we long for and legends there are in the east of our heads. So perchance Gods dwell unseen in the east of the world.

- Marc Bolan, Warlock of Love

September 30th, 2007 is Marc Bolan's 60th birthday.

Look how small he was; the white Strat dwarfs him. One of the finest rhythm guitarists ever. Chuck Berry's nose for a hook. Lyrics from beyond the Seas of Abyssinia. A stud, a lamb, the thoughts of a tiger. Leaps like a cat. Keep on boppin', Marc!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Whale Meat Again

Dover Publications send me a free sample of their images every week. (You can sign up here.) Because they deal in old books and images, the free samples are, of course, without context. Today they sent me, among others, this image of a whale being flensed, from a book called Medieval Life and People.

See the whale? It has a fish face. It has a fish backbone and tail (bending from side to side rather than flexing up and down). But it has breasts. The person drawing this clearly knew the whale was a mammal and put the most obvious secondary sexual characteristic (of human mammals) on it to prove it. Yet he drew it as a fish, as though he hadn't looked at it closely. Pressure to please his fans, who probably thought whales were fish? Didn't pay attention? Never saw the actual scene but had it described by a whale fisherman who knew what sort of animal he was catching?

What a fascinating drawing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Angeles Assyrian

I drove up for what I hope will be my last trip to Valencia yesterday. The days are getting shorter, so that now means setting out in the dark.

For forty miles, the full moon had been setting in front of me, a dark yellow glabrous sphere that looked much like one might find if one were to rummage in the medical waste bags of an operating theater. It finally descended into the morning smog, and the sun burst up behind me, instantly recreating that wonderful orange California glow. It was as if the landscape had been dipped in California orange juice. At that same moment, I was driving up to an Assyrian Palace. Now an outlet mall, the Palace of King Sargon II sits at the edge of the I5 in all its man-headed-bull-guardian glory, the smooth dawn glow of the palace walls competing with (and losing to) the Blade-Runner bright light of the giant LED screens built into each tower. This being Los Angeles, of course, one would expect a Babylonian palace, if at all. But no. It's Assyrian all the way, baby.

The strange fortress - it's called The Citadel - went by in a flash as my Little Grey Fella (with 5500 songs to choose from) randomly picked Led Zeppelin's "In the Light". Thank you LGF.

Of course, I couldn't take a picture, so you'll have to do with ones I found on the web. Orange glow and LED screens (new!) not shown.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

If YouTube Comments Met Real Life Situations...

A bit meta, but I found it amusing. "If YouTube Comments Met Real Life Situations" acts out YouTube comments in a boardroom. Both the boardroom and the YouTube comments were depressingly familiar.

Not quite work safe, depending on your work.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's noticed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Eye in the Sky

City of Sound, a fine blog about cities and esthetics, ran a piece recently that mentioned the skyline of South London. No-one actually looks at the skyline of South London; it's just that the Google Maps imaging satellite took a particularly memorable view of it, as it cast a shadow on the River Thames. The satellite passed over at exactly the right moment to capture the nearby buildings in a lovely, undistorted fringe along the river.

(c)Google. Here's my screencap of it. City of Sound has its own.

While we're at it, here's Google Maps picture of the O2 Arena. On November 26th, 20,000 Zeppelin fans – or rather about 16,000 Zeppelin fans and some assorted VIPs – will be there watching the inordinately famous Zeppelin reunion.

(c)Google. Moral: If you don't have a ticket and you're planning to listen from outside, bring a boat.

And talking of boats: they offer such marvelous opportunities. Do take advantage of them. I was a Sex Pistols fan in 1977, Led Zeppelin having faded from my mind. If the mention of Zeppelin brings out violent thoughts of something like this and this in your nature, do that instead. I might even join you. (There's no chance I'll get an O2 ticket anyways.)

HIV: Still Winning.

HIV is still a new phenomenon to me – I grew up in a world without it. I worked as a Med Tech for a couple of years in a world without it, too. That meant I sat in the lab each day uncapping hundreds of Vacutainers of fresh blood. Each cap came off with a pop and a spray of fine bloody mist, and then I put the blood sample through the Coulter Counter. No gloves, no mask. If I remember my figures correctly, about 25% of health care professionals had been exposed to Hepatitis B in those days. I'm not surprised.
HIV had already been recognized in 1981, but it wasn't until 1984 that I started to take precautions in the lab. More fool me; don't take the above as some sort of medical advice.

Since 1981, HIV has killed 25 million people. For the first 15 years of this horrible epidemic, it was actually common to see your friends (and some celebrities) die. With the advent of anti-retroviral drugs, English and American people saw fewer of their co-workers and acquaintances waste away and pass; but HIV itself continues to kill by the millions in places where we don't see it (or don't choose to look). According to UNAIDS figures quoted by Wikipedia, about three million people died of AIDS in 2005.

Why bring it up now? Because another vaccine trial against HIV has failed.

From AP:
Merck & Co. said Friday that it is ending enrollment and vaccination of volunteers in the study, which was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.It was a high-profile failure in the daunting quest to develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS. Merck's vaccine was the farthest along and was closely watched by experts in the field.Officials at the company, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., said 24 of 741 volunteers who got the vaccine in one segment of the experiment later became infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In a comparison group of volunteers who got dummy shots, 21 of 762 participants also became infected."It's very disappointing news," said Keith Gottesdiener, head of Merck's clinical infectious disease and vaccine research group. "A major effort to develop a vaccine for HIV really did not deliver on the promise."

(You have to love "dummy shots" instead of "placebo". Possibly America will languish from increasing inability to read English before HIV has any effect on the economy, but hey, one threat at a time here, folks.)

The approach had been to try to stimulate T-Cells into a response by putting artificial copies of the three major HIV genes into a common cold virus and injecting that. No dice. Other studies will no doubt follow.

One question that jumps to my mind is: If 'they' do develop an HIV vaccine, will they – the other they – allow women to have it?

The answer, based on a look at the controversy over the HPV vaccine, appears to be no. Who cares if girls die of sexually transmitted diseases, the worthless sluts. This little meme has now spread from America, home of stupid attitudes to sex, to Canada:
Trustees in the region west of Toronto will debate Tuesday night whether to ban Halton's public health unit from offering or administering the vaccine in Catholic schools.The ban could also prevent the health unit from counselling or giving advice on the vaccine to any student on board property.A recent letter from the conference of bishops encourages Catholic boards to remember that the virus is sexually transmitted, and that sex is "appropriate only" through marriage.
By the way, there is now a very effective vaccine for Hepatitis B. Healthcare professionals don't get it any more. And anyway, we wear gloves. Hepatitis C, now, that's a different matter.

NIH Page on HIV

Monday, September 17, 2007

Robert Plant at the Green Man - video

People are uploading their videos of the Green Man festival to YouTube.

They are apparently all cellphone videos, so the sound isn't great. But if you want to see what the Robert Plant set was like for a small object held at arm's length above somebody's head, this vid of Tin Pan Valley may serve. Or this vid of Whole Lotta Love - or Hoochie Coochie Man. I'm told there's a version taken further back with better sound, but I haven't found it yet. For Hoochie Coochie Man I'm just in front of the videographer. See the way Robert points in my direction when he says, "I'm gonna mess wit' you"? Highlight of my life.

And of course, you'll want to watch this one, which features the 1/4 left profile/back of my head at the 43 second mark.

To search YouTube, just enter search terms the way you do in Google. Or click on the name of the uploader (in this case Wammbarro) to see all their videos.

Thanks to MzMaihem for alerting me that these were posted.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pretties for you . . .

Excellent clip of the Pretty Things on Beat Club. It's from 1970 - at least judging by the waist-length hair of 1970_Beard!Phil. And of course the song, Cries From The Midnight Circus, which is from Parachute.

It's quite magic.

As is de riguer on Beat Club, Phil is wearing an orange t-shirt - but alas the TV studio's standard matching Orange amps are nowhere to be seen. The Pretty Things manage to color up the videospace quite nicely without them, however.

Outstanding stuff.

While we're at it, here's the Pretty Things singing "Balloon Burning" from S. F. Sorrow, with added Hindenburg video footage. I choose it for its resemblance to my dreams last night, which were probably similar to that of every Led Zeppelin fan after we tried and tried and tried and tried to register for tickets for the o2 reunion concert in November yesterday. . .

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Take Down

The fabulous Plagiarism Today blog has an article on why YouTube videos tend to be so short-lived. The article Why Fair Use Suffers on YouTube explains the meaning of "transformative content", and why YouTube, itself, doesn't have any, making it vulnerable to DMCA takedown notices.

From the article:
You’re watching your favorite TV show and there’s a one-minute segment that is especially good. You record it, throw it up on YouTube and then write a lengthy blog post about it. Not only are you hyping up the great episode, but offering lots of commentary on the show and that particular portion of it. You’re not making any money from your site and, truth be told, the clip is only a small part of the post, down at the footer even, but it all goes together very well and creates a nice review of the episode and the segment.

Yet, despite all of this attention to making your use of the video as fair as possible, two days later the video stops working, the owner of the content filed a DMCA notice and got the content removed. You could file a counter-notice, but after 10-14 business days, the post will be long forgotten.

What has happened? Although your post is "transformative" within the meaning of copyright law, the video itself, hosted at YouTube without your commentary, is not - and that's where the copyright holder sees the video and makes any assumptions he or she needs to about the legality of the clip. And what's worse, given YouTube's business model, this can't be changed.

Read the article at the Plagiarism Today blogsite here.

When Ramones Collide (with Avril Lavigne)

The Ramones and Avril Lavigne recut together on a video mashup - "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Girlfriend". I love it; it shows how precisely and finely the Ramones had mastered pop music. I think you could recut dozens of hits from 1957 to 2007 into Ramones songs and get the same timeless, happy teen vibe.

I first saw the Ramones in London in 1977 and was struck by the way the East Coasters could generate a West Coast cars'n'girls - oh-baby-won't-you-take-a-chance-so-let's-dance - surfer ambience at exactly the same time they were singing about male hustlers on 53rd and 3rd. Absolute genius. (I was also struck by quite how much they hated the London audience's habit of spitting ('gobbing') at bands they liked.)

From the comments on YouTube, I get the impression that not many others feel the way I do. It appears that in the YouTube world, the Ramones were grim "punk rock" stars who need to be fiercely defended against the clinging taint of pop. How well I remember those arguments. And how little I care about them.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Look on my works, ye mighty

I have a favorite pin-up.

He's been my favorite pin-up since I was a kid, when I first got a copy of C.W. Ceram's Gods, Graves and Scholars. I've always been interested in archaeology. I suppose 20th century western children came in three main brands – dinosaur kids, airplane kids and Ancient Egypt kids. I was the latter. I loved Ceram's book and currently have two editions in English, one in German and one very similar book of his with more pictures in it. I reread one or more of them every now and again. This photo, more than any Egyptian stele or Assyrian frieze, is an image burned into my imagination.

Click on the small picture for a larger picture. The smaller is from a paperback edition; the larger is from the German hardback edition. I believe the hardback is the original and the ppbk is the flopped copy. (Giles G Healey)

The photo is of a Lacandone Indian, standing against the walls of Bonampak. The photo is credited to Giles G. Healey, which means it was taken in 1946.

Ceram published the photo to show the similarity of the modern jungle dweller's profile to the silhouette of the ancient city dweller. The man, who could well have been called Na Bor, is a descendant of the Maya who built Bonampak. He, Na Bor, lived in the jungle on subsistence rations of cassava, maize, sweet potato, tomatoes, beans and the occasional monkey shot with a flint arrowhead. His family also grew tobacco. His relatives still live there today – I hope. Eleven hundred years before this photograph was taken, his ancestors built stone cities, reservoirs and observatories. They had a written language and studied astronomy and mathematics.

I've always found the picture moving. Na Bor is beautiful. When you see the other photos of him standing next to Giles Healey himself, you realize he is not a tall, dark hunter but virtually a hobbit – probably about 5' 1" tall. He's barefoot. Na Bor looks so serious as he emulates the warrior's face in the plaster. In other photos, the local Lacandone families have open, cheery grins on their faces. They are dressed in identical grubby single-piece shifts, woven by the women from locally grown cotton, giving one the impression of complete inability to buy or trade any goods whatsoever. They are still smiling. They love their world and apparently they were happy enough to see Healey or Tozzer or later travelers to come by and chat with them or photograph them, as long as the white men didn't offer them any of their god-awful food. [1]

I believe I've discussed Ozymandias here before – and the melancholy feeling that comes with understanding that great civilizations fade away. Na Bor is a different teacher, because he is not looking on his ancestors' great works and despairing, either from awe or from regret at what he's lost. The ultimate impression is that he can't comprehend the changes. Maybe I'm wrong, but...

Looking at it, I can never shake the eerie feeling that one day our children, six inches shorter than us, armed with bows and dressed in cotton shifts, will be standing outside our dead cities trying to look serious.

Except our cities won't last eleven hundred years.

[1] The Four Suns, Jacques Soustelle, p. 26

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dept. of the Bleeding Obvious Report: Live Fast = Die Young

In the category of "studies I hope I didn't pay any taxes for" today, we find a report that Rock Stars are more likely to die young than the mumble-cohort-of-regular-guys in a comparison study.

ABC News reports:

Rock stars - notorious for their "crash and burn" lifestyles - really are more likely than other people to die before reaching old age.
A study of more than 1,000 mainly British and North American artists, spanning the era from Elvis Presley to rapper Eminem, found they were two to three times more likely to suffer a premature death than the general population.


He said the study raised questions about the suitability of using rock stars for public health messages, such as anti-drug campaigns, when their own lifestyle was so dangerous.

Right. (Blogger doesn't provide an 'eye roll' smileyface. Insert your own here.)

The report's author suggests that the high death rate among older American musicians could be related to the continent's greater appetite for reunion tours, exposing the artists for more years to an unhealthy "rock n roll" lifestyle.

No, FFS. Try again.

It could also be due to the poor medical outlook for impoverished American ex-pop stars who have no health insurance, he said.

That would be the one.

I've seen many an English 'rock star' banging out blues in smoky bars at age 60 and they're doing fine. Unless it's not telling the papers that makes it harmless, it isn't the lack of reunion tours that's contributing to their longevity.

Monday, September 03, 2007

SWFA: Working for the Clampdown?

It's hard to believe, but the union of Science Fiction writers, the SFWA, has managed to make the news again with anti-internet activities. The last time was the incident which led to International Pixel Stained Peasant Day, when vice-president Howard Hendrix called writers "scabs" for making their work available for free online, as if SF were some sort of zero-sum resource, whereby if you can get your fill of fiction for free at one venue, you will not be inclined to pay for 'it' at another.

This time, the SFWA issued a DMCA Takedown Order - or at least wording intended to simulate one - against a file-sharing site called scribd. It was rather broad, to say the least, allegedly including a notice to take down all files with the text string "Asimov" in them. (Because, of course, we all know it is impossible to use those letters in that order unless we are somehow infringing on the rights of Asimov's estate.) One of the people caught in the takedown was Cory Doctorow, who is not a big fan of the DMCA. Rather the opposite - he intentionally makes his works available for free for non-commercial purposes, and also has not requested the SFWA to make demands on his behalf. He posted his thoughts about this to Boing Boing. He was, shall we say, not in favor of the move.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) got in on the act, and the SFWA apologized and in fact, has now suspended the activities of the anti-piracy committee, according to an article here at James Nicoll's LJ.

I'm all in favor of stopping piracy; there's some parts of copyright law I actually like and regard as being there to protect my interests as a content provider. There are major problems with it, in my opinion. One is the vast length of time that copyright lasts. Another is the superpowered DMCA takedown routine which can be used maliciously or carelessly to cripple websites by forcing them to remove large slabs of content on flimsy evidence until such time as the details are worked out. Scribd were wrong to post pirated content; the SFWA were unprofessional to send a shotgun takedown out to them in such an hasty and heavy-handed way. One hopes that this incident will teach them that it is better to work with websites than against them. We all have the common goal of getting SF (and other original content) out to people who want to see it.

For more discussion see, for instance, the comments on the subject at Making Light.

I wanna take you higher . . .Hyatt House in LA

More on the Sunset Strip Hyatt House. These three frame captures are taken from a video which is zooming from Robert Plant's balcony towards Central LA. I mentioned in the earlier post that the view must have been breathtaking. Well, here it is.
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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The building at left is the Sunset Tower Hotel.

I'd credit the video but I don't know whose it is. The frames are taken from a Led Zeppelin biography segment here on Daily Motion. The segment also has some more footage of Robert Plant's python, if you're a Plant (or python) fan. And some other stuff about naked women. It's the usual yadda yadda, in fact, but the archival footage is always appreciated.

If the frames are treading on anyone's toes, let me know and I'll take them down.


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