Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Taliesin

My life has seemed to be intertwined with Taliesin. When I was in the sixth grade, my very enlightened teacher sent three of her students, including me, to visit the Women's Club in downtown Phoenix. The speaker that day was Frank Lloyd Wright. I still remember his dramatic entrance in a long black coat with his flat looking black hat and his stunning white hair. I can't remember what he said, but the impression he made never left me.

April 29 is the birthday of the Welsh poet, Taliesin. The name means shining brow in Middle Welsh. History has preserved eleven of his poems. If you have to ask what Frank Lloyd Wright has to do with Taliesin, then I suggest you have missed most of what has happened in American architecture. Wright designed more than 1,000 projects and has more than 500 completed works. His two homes are called Taliesin, located in Wisconsin and Taliesin West, located in north Scottsdale.

A tour of Taliesin West is rather expensive, but during one period of time I worked as a computer repair person and had the opportunity to work on the computers at Taliesin West, thereby getting a very detailed tour of the entire home and workshop. Here is a video of one of Wright's most famous designs, Falling Water:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Pebble in the Sky -- the start of a journey unfinished

In 1950 Isaac Asimov published his first novel, A Pebble in the Sky. I am not certain how I came about to have a copy of this book, but I first read the book in about 1954 or 1955. This was my introduction to the world of science fiction. From that time to the present, I have been a science fiction fan. During that time of my life, I would spend the entire summers reading books. Two or three times a week, I would get on my bike and ride to the Phoenix Public Library, then on the corner of McDowell Road and Central Avenue, and check out the maximum number of books allowed. After pedaling home, I would read all the books and then make the return trip.

Since my favorite books were in the science fiction section, eventually, I read almost every science fiction book in the library. This ended the first phase of my science fiction reading. Since I didn't have any more books to read, I read everything else in the library. (Not all the books, but about every subject).

The second phase of my science fiction reading came in my later teens, when I had access to other libraries and other books. However, by that time, a significant portion of the so-called "science fiction" had become objectionable in many ways, usually bad language or inappropriate themes and story lines. This continued into my later years. Every so often I would find a book worth reading, but science fiction, as a genre had fragmented into what is now referred to as fantasy/science fiction. I basically stopped reading any significant amount of fiction, to speak of, about twenty years or more ago.

In going back, every so often, and re-reading some of the early science fiction books, I now fail to see their attraction. Although some are well written, most of the stories no longer hold my interest. I guess that they cannot compete with real life. In some ways the technology has gone so much further than almost all of the books that they seem quaint, like Jules Verne and his hollow earth. On the other hand, the space books have, so far, vastly under estimated both the time table and the cost of space travel to society as a whole. None of the faster than light travel ideas have turned out to be viable, especially the star gates.

I am still in the market for a good science fiction story, but I don't see anything coming down the pike and I am not really interested in the endless Chronicle type fantasy books that seem to dominate the shelf space in the libraries.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Scientists' study of TV's effects discredited

The response to the extensive scientific study detailing the effects of watching TV were quickly questioned and discredited. After receiving a large sum of money from various cable TV suppliers and national networks, an equally prestigious study shows that despite the claims of the prior study, TV watching actually stimulates brain development in infants and teenagers. It is also reported, in a very, very prestigious study to be a cure for dementia and Alzheimer's.

It is reported that in a group of over 1000 two to four-year-olds, watching videos of toys, stuffed animals, flowers and listening to poorly arranged light classical music increased their cognitive abilities by over 40% during the study period. The effects were most noticeable when the viewing time was increased from 14 to 15 hours per day. Unfortunately, if you read the footnotes of the report carefully, the parents of these children became totally incapacitated in about three hours.

Also, the copy of the previous study, indicating that decreasing TV viewing to 168 hours per week had no effect on decreasing the incidence of brain mush has now disappeared from the Eastern Arizona library, which had the only copy.

The second part of the pro-TV study, showing that ten or more hours of the Disney channel viewing increased standardized test scores among teenagers, will be released shortly. This extensive study had one major problem, finding teenagers who only watched ten hours of TV a day. In order to validate the study, the researchers were forced to include time playing video games as part of the control group. It was decided that the next focus group would be adults and teenagers who watch more than 168 hours of TV a week. It is not anticipated that finding victims for this study will be difficult.

Cognitive ability, spacial recognition, social interaction and cooperative behavior patterns increased dramatically as TV viewing passed the 100 hours per week mark. There is hope that apply this parameter to older viewers will wipe out senility within the next three to six months. Thus the former study, indicating that excessive TV watching pulverized brain tissue and turned the brain into cold oatmeal has been entirely refuted.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Study shows TV softens brain tissue

A recent study, conducted under the most stringent scientific conditions, concluded that more than two hours of watching TV a week tenderized the average brain. The study, conducted by real scientists, compared the brains of people who watched up to 168 hours of television a week to those who lived in remote cabins without electricity and were unable to watch TV. The brains of the TV watchers were indistinguishable from tenderized meat while those in the cabin control group looked disgustingly normal. In order to obtain some idea of the threshold level of destructive tendency, the scientists tried to find people who actually watched TV less than 168 hours per week (the average for the U.S. viewer is slightly higher than that of the control group). They were able to find a few farmers in Pennsylvania, who had no electricity and whose average dropped below 80 hours per week. In order to find someone who had less exposure, the scientists went to a half a dozen developing countries. They finally discovered a group of African Bushmen who watched only two hours of TV a week.

In all of the study cases, the degree of pulverization of the brain cells was found to be independent of the hours of TV exposure. Incredibly after less than one hour of viewing per week, the brains of the subjects showed almost complete deterioration.

Unfortunately, when the major TV broadcasters and producers heard the results of the study, all of the scientists mysteriously disappeared or were unable to give interviews from their private yachts in the Bahamas. Only one copy of the study remained in a library in Eastern Arizona where I was able to photograph a copy with my iPhone. I am afraid if the TV people learn of the whereabouts of this pirated copy, I may be forced to watch five hours of TV and you will never hear from me again.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My worst ever movies of all time

There is no doubt that the worst movie I have ever suffered through was so bad it set the standard for all subsequent measures of poverty of expression. This movie is so bad that it doesn't even have site on Wikipedia. The movie was released by Universal Pictures in 1961 and it is called Tomboy and the Champ. I would love to link this title to a review, but no one, that is, no one at all on the entire Web has ever watched this movie all the way through. Except me. [This is hyperbole, Amazon had five reviews, one with five stars, and all I can say is that the reviewers did not see the same picture I remember].

You could buy this gem from Amazon. It is well known that Amazon has no taste whatsoever. But you would be wasting your $19.99. Even the worst review on Amazon sounds like the reviewer has a stake in the sale of the movie. To quote one of the reviews, Tomboy is "the story about a little girl who overcomes obstacles to raise a champion Angus and features a cameo by the cowboy singer/star Rex Allen."

Now there are the standard worst movies, Plan 9 from Outer Space. "The plot of the film is focused on a race of extraterrestrial beings who are seeking to stop humans from creating a doomsday weapon that would destroy the universe. In the course of doing so, the aliens implement "Plan 9", a scheme to resurrect Earth's dead as zombies to get the planet's attention, causing chaos." Wikipedia. I have seen this movie twice, just to make sure it was as bad as it is supposed to be. It is.

Now, what do I mean by bad. There are whole categories of movies I wouldn't even load into the DVD player. Junk, drivel, trash, offensive trash and offensive drivel. Movie reviews are no help, the reviewers, having seen all that trash, have no idea what is good and what is bad. Really bad movies never get to the list of really bad movies because no one has actually seen them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dare I say, my top ten movies?

One of my grandchildren asked me my favorite bird. I don't usually have favorites at all. Favorites show that you haven't had that much experience. My favorite is usually the next thing I see in that category. So my favorite bird is whatever is the next lovely bird I see, or flower, or book I read and so forth. I would only compile a list of the top ten (or ten thousand) for illustrative purposes.

Since I started going to movies when I was about six years old, and used to go to up to three or four a week during the summer, I have seen a lot of movies. Narrowing down the field to a top ten or whatever is nearly impossible. For example, The Gods Must Be Crazy is not on anyone's top ten list, but it would be on mine. Some movies had a great impact on me at the time, like Butch Casidy and the Sundance Kid, but I wouldn't want to see it again anytime soon (since I saw it about six or eight times when it came out). The same thing goes for the Magnificent Seven, a really interesting movie but after about ten viewings it is pretty predictable.

Additionally, I view the original and all the sequels to be one huge movie, so I consider Lord of the Rings to be one movie in three parts, not three separate movies. The same with Star Wars, except you can make some difference between the movies because they came out so long apart.

I would have to put Star Wars and Lord of the Rings on my list, for the simple reason that both movies are monumental in their impact on me and the rest of the world. I cannot think of a movie I enjoyed more than Star Wars the very first time at the Cine Capri in Phoenix.

I entirely disagree with the lists of best movies by how much money they made. Some of the high money making movies I will not go see under any circumstances. Some movies had a big impact but I do not consider them to be good movies, like all of the Indiana Jones bunch. Entertaining, but not good movies.

You might guess that I like action adventure/science fiction movies and you would be right. But that is mainly because that is where all of the innovation is. I do not care for any of the so-called classics like Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon. I also think the African Queen is tedious. They are OK but wouldn't get on any of my lists. I would have to add Independence Day as one of the most memorable, as is Men in Black (only No. 1 not No. 2). I like the Harry Potter movies but they are not great movies.

I also like Secondhand Lions. There are no animated movies that I would put on a top ten list, unless I was doing a top ten animated movies or something like that. I also like Lawrence of Arabia, good acting, good scenery and etc. I also like Rocket Man (Walt Disney) it is still a little bit funny.

If we are going to go back in time, I like Witness for the Prosecution, one of the few legal themed movies that is worth watching. Now that brings up Princess Bride, which has to be on anyone's list. There are few movies that have had such an impact on the American language as that movie. I also like North by Northwest and Singin' in the Rain. I also have to mention To Kill a Mockingbird and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

But it is truly amazing how many movies I wouldn't watch even if I were paid to do so. You guess which ones are in the top ten.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Weirdward Experiences

It is thirty miles from Holbrook to St. Johns, Arizona. Late one night, when I was very young, my father was driving his car from Holbrook, home to St. Johns. The roads at that time were very bad and the cars were 1950s cars, so you can imagine that the trip took considerably more time back then, than it does now. On that trip, my father and mother were talking to each other and suddenly they looked up and they were driving into St. Johns. The whole trip had taken a remarkable fifteen minutes on the clock.

Some years later, I was driving the road from Albuquerque to Gallup, New Mexico. I remember driving along the road towards Grants, when the next thing we knew we were driving into Gallup. No time seems to have passed on the clock.

This same experience has happened several times since. I recall having the experience on various occasions. I cannot remember driving between the various locations and no one in the car can remember the trip either.

This is something to ponder.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Find diamonds in the United States?

It is not generally known, but the United States has many profitable diamond producing sites. The huge consortium of diamond dealers, from Southern Africa have dominated the sale and advertising of diamonds for so long that there is almost no media coverage of the various diamond mines and possible locations throughout the United States.

The most famous, if that term can be used, is near Murfreesboro, Arkansas at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. For $7.00 a day (or $4.00 for children) you can spend the entire day searching a 37 acre field for diamonds. There was an operating diamond mine along the Colorado-Wyoming border in the Kelsey Lake Mine, where the largest diamond found, so far, was 28.3 carats. But the mine closed in 2002. Diamonds have also been found in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Potter Puppet Pals in "The Mysterious Ticking Noise"

Here it goes folks, you asked for it, you got it....

He, he he he he

Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie

Well, I got started on Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett I thought it would be a good thing to educate the less knowledgeable of my readers with a Nothing cultural exchange. Here it goes:

If you loved that one, look at this:

You can now see all of the culture you missed not growing up in the 50s.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Jim Bowie

Yes, all you Alamo fans, today is the birthday of James "Jim" Bowie born on April 10, 1796. Despite his impeccable Texas credentials, he was actually born in Kentucky and lived most of his life in Louisiana. When I was young, the school library had a selection of red library bound books on famous Americans. One of those was about Davy Crockett who also died in the Battle of the Alamo. The battle and its participants have passed on into legend. Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett are forever to be remembered together, even if they hardly knew each other before they were both killed by the Mexicans.

When I was about eight years old, Davy Crockett, in the guise of Fess Parker, was a regular on the Walt Disney TV show. The theme song and his signature coon skin cap, became the standard outfit for any dress up including Halloween costumes. According to Wikipedia: "Nevertheless, the shows proved very popular. They were combined into a feature-length movie in the summer of 1955, and Parker and his co-star Buddy Ebsen toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. By the end of 1955, Americans had purchased over $300 million of Davy Crockett merchandise ($2 billion in 2001). The television series also introduced a new song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett". Four different versions of the song hit the Billboard Best Sellers pop chart in 1955. The versions by Bill Hayes, TV series star Fess Parker, and Tennessee Ernie Ford charted in the Top 10 simultaneously, with Hayes' version hitting #1." Try it out, almost anyone living during the 1950s can sing at least part of the song.

I never did own a coon skin cap but I am sure I would have been thrilled to have one. In films Crockett has been played by all of the following:
Can you believe it?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

History of the Refrigerator Magnet

It is reported that the first refrigerator magnet patent was obtained by William Zimmerman of St. Louis, Missouri, in the early 1970s. Zimmerman patented the idea of small, colored, cartoon magnets to be used for decorative display and convenience. Wikipedia. The largest collection of refrigerator magnets was reportedly accumulated by Louise J. Greenfarb (apparently her real name), to quote from Wikipedia;
Her world record was included to the Guinness World Records with 19,300 items as of 1997. According to the British "Book of alternative records", it grew to 29,000 as of February 2002, and later up to over 30,000 items. Over 7,000 magnets from Greenfarb's collection are exhibited at the Guinness Museum in Las Vegas.

As of 2007, Louise has collected 35,000 magnets. Her current count as of January 2009, which has not been officially recognized, is 40,000 plus non-duplicates. She keeps over 10,000 duplicates on-hand to trade with her magpals.

You can now buy a 16th Century World Map Francis Drake Fridge Magnet. I have noticed that no matter how innocuous the object, there is some one who holds the world record for collecting the object and there is a convention somewhere of people who buy and sell it.

Another example of this phenomenon is the Coca-Cola Collector's Club. Their 35th Annual National Convention will be held in Denver, June 30 to July 4, 2009. Can't miss it, but I probably will.

OK, if that wasn't enough, then check out what is likely the world's largest collection of banana labels. As for me, I don't believe that Louise J. Greenfarb actually exists.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Explosions as a plot element

There seem to be few movies made lately that don't have at least one major explosion as part of the story. Fortunately, I don't have to watch too many movies because the vast majority are more objectionable than I will tolerate, but those I do watch seem to be fixated on explosions. Even movies that don't have anything to do with war or fighting seem to work in an explosion or two just to keep up the tradition. Even Lord of the Rings, which supposedly takes place at some remote time in the past, has a couple of explosions, just because they could do it, I suppose.

Explosions also seem to go along with the degeneracy of the language in the films. Along with blowing things up, the dialogue has to make the characters sound like they grew up in ghetto in New York or Chicago, even if the movies are supposed to take place elsewhere. Some otherwise good movies are entirely ruined by gratuitous bad language. When you finally find a movie that doesn't have either an explosion or bad language, it is usually lacking in some other substantial way. There is no reason to even view a bad movie, it is only through the fact that people will indiscriminately watch trash that the who trashy movie industry keeps going.

If you can judge the moral state of the country by the content of the movies, we are in sorry shape.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Running Free -- The New Milo and Otis

Animal movies have always been a small but significant sector of the overall movie market. The pinnacle of animal movies has always been The Adventures of Milo and Otis. Released in 1986 in Japan and 1989 in the U.S., it has shaped the culture of the 3 to 5 year old market as no other picture. Move over Milo and give way Otis, we have another contender for the cutesy animal picture of the 21st Century. Not only does the movie have all the animal credentials, it also has ties to politics, minorities, ecology and overwhelming sentimentality. Running Free is truly the Milo and Otis of the Century.

When was the last time you went to a movie that was narrated in the first person by a horse? Can't remember one? When was the last time you saw a movie that was narrated in the first person by any animal? When was the last time you saw a G Rated movie? Even though this movie is dripping with maudlin dialogue, the scenery, shot on location in Africa is spectacular and the horses are beautiful and impressive. When was the last time you saw a movie starring an African Bushman? The Gods Must Be Crazy I and II?

This movie is actually based on an historical event, horses let loose by the Germans when the evacuated German South West Africa at the start of World War I. Those same horses are still alive today in the middle of the Namib Desert. The horses even have their own international organization to preserve them and they have their own resorts. They presently live in the Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park.

While watching the movie we asked ourselves about six times whether we should stop or just fast forward. Since I don't have the attention span of a 3 year old, I chose to fast forward through some of the scenes (too intense for adults).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nano Nano Layla

It is nice to know that the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. research facilities are finally producing some really useful products. Introducing, the single nanotube radio that can actually detect and play songs. Yes, folks, you guessed it. An invisible radio. The Physics Department at the University of California, Berkeley has recorded Eric Clapton singing "Layla" for your benefit. You can easily compare how far the technology has come by listening to the earliest known voice recording in 1860, from Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

If you would like to know a whole lot more about the nanotube radio, and maybe build one yourself, you can read about it on the Center of Integrated Nonomechanical Systems Website. They also have quite a selection of popular music recorded in this extremely low fidelity system such as Good Vibrations, Largo and Star Wars.

It is truly amazing how much progress can be made over almost 150 years of research. Just listen to that sound. That alone is amazing enough but look at the cat's whisker radio that it comes from. How amazing can you get. It is too bad that they didn't put something like a pin or whatever in the picture of the nanotube to show how really small it is. Oops, I forgot is is so small that it is invisible without a really strong microscope. Let's just hope that when they go into production we can find some way to turn them off, otherwise we will spend the rest of our lives listening to Star Wars and not knowing where the sound is coming from.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy Birthday Edmond Eugene Alexis Rostand

When I was in high school, one of the highlights of the day was the lunch period. By my senior year we had quite a group of people who would eat lunch together each day. One thing I do remember is that we would quote poetry and sometimes plays. One of the favorite quotes from a play was from Cyrano de Bergerac. We all loved Cyrano and of course, Edmond Rostand.

Probably one of the ironies of the lunch period was the background music to our discussions of French plays, Johnny Cash singing I Walk the Line. All it takes to transport me back in time to the Central High School lunch room is to hear that song again. It was the only song on the jukebox that that the school had in the cafeteria, at least, it was the only one I remember. I think it was their attempt at culture being the sixties and all and Johnny Cash was supposed to be a "folk singer." I had a better chance at being a concert pianist than Johnny Cash had at being a folk singer.

But I can also remember the food and sitting around talking, things I don't do much anymore, not having the leisure of youth. So Happy Birthday Edmond Rostand and may Cyrano live on forever in the hearts of all true romantics.