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December 24, 2009

To boldly go where no man had gone before

Are you ready to get your geek on? This is a fitting companion piece to the previous post, which showed you the entire known universe. A Japanese fan has produced what I believe to be the first radio-controlled model of the Starship Enterprise. Not having mastered the intricacies of antigravity -- and lacking the aerodynamic qualities needed for sub-orbital maneuvering -- the modeler has done the next best thing and figured out how to "fly" it in a swimming pool.

You do know that NASA trains its astronauts for spacewalks by putting them in their spacesuits and dropping them in water, don't you?

As the blogger over at Gizmodo noted, the only problem with the 1/350 scale model is the lack of "PEW! PEW!" noises.

Posted by Mike Lief at 07:39 AM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2009

A tour of the known universe in a bit more than 6 minutes

This not-to-be-missed video "takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History."


Posted by Mike Lief at 09:58 PM | Comments (3)

December 16, 2009

Ring in the Season

A Christmas Classic, reinterpreted, reinvigorated, and really smile-inducing, thanks to the vocal stylings of the Muppets.

Posted by Mike Lief at 07:18 AM

December 11, 2009

What have they done to A Charlie Brown Christmas?

Is there no childhood memory those of us born in the '60s hold dear that remains un-sullied in the new-and-improved 21st Century? Believe it or not, even A Charlie Brown Christmas has been cut down for broadcast, "excess" scenes eliminated.

Dork Tower posted a letter written by his friend to ABC:

FROM: Leon Lynn
RE: Desecration of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Dear ABC,

How could you?

For years and years I have awaited the network broadcast of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” as the true herald of the holiday season. I brought my kids up with the same tradition — one which has been made no less special for us by the fact that they happen to be Jewish.

Tonight we sat in horror and watched what you have done to the single greatest cartoon ever made.

How many minutes did you cut out of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” so you could run more commercials?

Gone was Sally’s materialistic letter to Santa, which finally sends Charlie screaming from the room when she says she will settle for 10s and 20s.

Gone was Schroeder’s miraculous multiple renditions of “Jingle Bells” from a toy piano, including the one that sounds distinctly like a church organ.

Gone was Linus using his blanket as an improvised slingshot to knock a can off the fence no one else can hit, complete with ricochet sound effect.

Gone were the kids catching snowflakes on their tongues and commenting on their flavor.

Gone even was poor Shermy’s only line. He thought he had it bad because he was always tasked to play a shepherd. He had no idea.

And why were all these classic scenes cut? To plug more ads into the show, of course. To sell burgers and greeting cards — and to relentlessly plug the insipid-looking new Disney “soon to be a classic” show immediately following. (I didn’t watch the new show, by the way. I was laid far too low by what had just happened.)

Cramming all of these ads into the 30-minute broadcast of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” required major edits to a cartoon that has spent 44 years now trying to remind us that Christmas is supposed to transcend crass commercialism.

Do you have no sense of irony?


Obviously I was wrong.

Oh, and by the way: The sound was half a second behind the picture: They were not synched properly. I thought this was pretty sloppy for a major TV network, but I was willing to look past it.

What I cannot look past is the chopping to bits of a genuine classic, not just to pump more ads at us, but in direct conflict with the message that has made it a classic.

When I was a kid, the annual broadcast of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a holiday unto itself. It was the only time we ever saw ads for Dolly Madison snack cakes, for one thing. But more importantly, it actually framed the coming holiday for me in a meaningful way.

The shepherds in their fields had no corporate sponsors. Nobody had bought the naming rights for the manger. The infant Jesus did not have an endorsement deal lined up with a particular line of swaddling clothes.

Instead he came, the story goes, to preach universal love, and the abandonment of false ideals like the acquisition of gross material wealth in favor of something far more valuable.

You have not just lost sight of this, or turned your backs on it. You have stomped it into the mud.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

But I bet you aren’t. I bet you’re way past that.

Count my family out for next year.


Leon Lynn

Armchair Commentary notes that the DVD runs three minutes, 15 seconds longer than the broadcast version, so it seems that the original may have survived, at least if you're willing to buy it.

Merry Christmas my ass, ABC. A lump of coal in your corporate stocking.

Posted by Mike Lief at 06:50 AM

December 02, 2009

Lady GaGa before she became Lady Gaga

Up until this evening I've had only the faintest awareness of a new pop star, "Lady Gaga," apparently all the rage, so far as I can tell as much for her outrageous so-called fashion sense and style as for her music. I am not much impressed by spectacle and glitz when it comes to singers, preferring simplicity and artistry as a means of revealing the talent presumably waiting to be seen and heard.

So these two videos present an interesting juxtaposition, a contrapuntal display of before and after, with fame being the line of demarcation, the DMZ between Wow! and Uh, whoa!

In the video above, Stephani Germanotta (the pre-fame woman who would mutate into Lady GaGa) performs at New York University's annual talent show, the song one of her own composition. I like it; jazzy, with a throaty vocal that every so often hints at a growl, she reminds me of Norah Jones, and the performance succeeds, not on the basis of design or fashion, nor of hours spent in a soundbooth tweaking the multi-layered tracks and overdubbing, but on the strength of her voice and talent at the piano.

Compare and contrast it with the video below from an upcoming album, recorded a mere four years after her NYU gig.

From the tattoos and rubber, latex and other assorted fetish accoutrements, to the artificial, over-processed sound and pounding techno beat, I'm gobsmacked at the thought that this is the same woman who sat at a piano and won over a crowd in Gotham.

I'd buy a CD recorded by Stephani Germanotta.

Lady GaGa?

Ah, no.

Posted by Mike Lief at 11:57 PM | Comments (3)