Contra Dancing

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Brooklyn hipsters are now embracing the centuries-old tradition of contra dancing:

Derived from English country dancing — think of the long paired lines of couples crisscrossing and partner-swapping in all those Jane Austen country-manor balls, now press fast forward — contra offers young urbanites an inclusive atmosphere where they can work up a little sweat away from the gym and touch human beings instead of screens.


For those more accustomed to socializing in dark clubs with exotic cocktails and pounding music, contra’s wholesome, folksy culture can come as a bit of a shock.

“The first thing I thought when I walked in the door is, where is the bar?” said Dakota Kim, 34, an event producer who recently attended her first contra dance in Brooklyn. “But then it’s so fun you don’t care.”

On the dance floor, partners start out facing each other in long lines while a live band plays jigs and reels. With the cadences of a comforting auctioneer, the caller calls out moves to dancers on the floor. Partners clasp hands, spin and look into each other’s eyes.

We are talking about Brooklyn hipsters though:

Another change lies with the historical terms for partners—traditionally called “ladies” and “gents.” These days, when Mr. Isaacs introduces the dance, he says, “ladies and gents is a dance role, not a gender.”

Contra Dancing in Brooklyn

TIE Fighter

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Paul Johnson (MightyOtaking) produced his TIE Fighter short film over four years of weekends:

He describes it as “an Empire-focussed short Star Wars animation, drawn with the crazy detail and shading of classic 80s anime that’s all but vanished from Japan nowadays.”

With Zak Rahman’s guitar soundtrack, it has a very Heavy Metal vibe.

I never played the 1994 TIE Fighter game, but the project proposal references it.

How Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’ Went Viral

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” — formally titled “Under the Wave off Kanagawa” from the woodblock series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” — is about the size of a piece of legal paper and wasn’t originally held in especially high regard in its home country:

The image is a mix of east and west — a blending of techniques that Hokusai picked up from Japanese artists and his own knowledge of European prints. The woodblock depicts Mount Fuji, a hallowed place in Japan, but pushes the peak deep into the distance using western perspective. The wave was printed on Japanese mulberry paper but marked by a color new to Japan — a vibrant Prussian blue created from synthetic dye in Germany.

Hokusai's The Great Wave

“The prints were a popular art, they were not something intellectual connoisseurs really admired at the fine-art level,” said Ms. Thompson. “They were discovered by the Europeans before the Japanese.”

Ms. Guth hypothesizes in her book that a devastating tsunami in Japan in 1896 helped give the woodcut its international renown. Hokusai’s print was becoming more familiar just as the word tsunami was working its way into the English language, she wrote, and the word and image soon became linked.

The print, which does not depict a tsunami, shows fishermen rowing frantically across a stormy Tokyo Bay after delivering their cargo to the city. Fingers of sea foam curl over their heads. It’s unclear if they’re going to make it home alive, though some scholars believe the presence of the sacred Mount Fuji works in their favor.

Roughly 100 impressions of “The Great Wave” exist today from an original print run estimated by some experts at more than 5,000.

Theatre gave birth to democracy in ancient Greece.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Theatre gave birth to democracy in ancient Greece:

In 534 BCE, Pisistratus, tired of the divisions among his fellow citizens, invented the annual theatre festival. With this stroke of genius, all theatre activity came together at a single place and time. All four tribes came into a common space and shared a common experience.

The result was nothing short of revolutionary. Athenian consciousness changed. Within a generation, in 508 BCE, democracy began.

It began when Cleisthenes, an aristocrat, reformed the Athenian constitution, which had institutionalized the four tribes’ power in a way that led to tyranny in the first place. Instead, Cleisthenes created a new system that “redistricted” the city-state and instituted a legislature where the members were chosen by lottery, instead of by clan or heredity. “Demo” in “democratic” means “common people.”

The next 104 years were the “golden age” of Athens. Democracy flourished, and so did the theatre — Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides all wrote their plays during this period, and competed with each other at the annual festival.

Sophocles and Euripides both died in 406 BC. The 27-year-long Peloponnesian War ended in 404 BC with Athens’ defeat at the hands of Sparta. The great age of theatre was over. And as Athens crumbled under Spartan rule, so was Athenian democracy.

(Hat tip to Anomaly UK.)

Utopian Film

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Watching films has become so profoundly familiar that we’ve lost sight of just how consequential this activity truly is:

We have come to take cinema so for granted, we don’t wonder how we might use it to benefit our lives in a properly profound way. Ideally, we would get more ambitious about the role of cinema in the world. We would try to pin down more accurately what films can actually do for us, then make sure we’re reliably making, and finding our way to seeing, the best (that is, the most useful) kinds of films: the films that really do help us with our struggles and pains. We would, ideally, learn that film – like all the other art forms – best reveals its power when we conceive of it as a kind of therapy.

This idea isn’t new. It comes from the Ancient Greeks who brought maturity to the predecessor of cinema: theatre. Fascinatingly, they didn’t just file going to the theatre under ‘entertainment’ and leave it at that. They thought very deeply about what the point of sitting in a theatre might be and concluded that it should be a therapeía, a resource to help us grow into better, wiser, more mature kinds of people. It belonged, together with religion and philosophy, to the forces that could develop our souls. Aristotle proposed that watching tragedies was highly useful in shaking us free of self-righteousness. Seeing how easily a hero might make a small error and then pay a huge price for it could induce fear and pity in the audience, leaving us readier to forgive others and better able to examine our own consciences.


Film has an enormous power to glamourise. It can put in front of our eyes delightful images many metres in size, shot in extraordinary colours, vivid and immediate. Because so many films glamourise the wrong things, we’re used to thinking that an element of alienation and corruption is a generic rather than an incidental danger of cinema.

But in fact, film is well able to show us the less obvious but real charms of everyday life. Whereas the worst sort of films eject us back into our lives full of longing and disenchantment, the best ones leave us ready to re-engage with circumstances with which we had unfairly grown bored. Cinema can help us love and appreciate what we already have.

Scott McCloud and Solar Eclipses

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics) has a more interesting family history than I realized. He opens his TED Talk with a sad story about solar eclipses:

The Disco Song

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

In the summer of 1974, Chris Stein wrote a song with the catchy feel of “Rock the Boat”. Debbie Harry wrote some lyrics about falling in and out of love and threw in a 1960s R&B girl group-style “Ooo-ooo, ohhh-oh” fill when they started performing the song at CBGB. This became the disco song, which became Blondie’s first hit — but only after Mike Chapman produced it:

Mr. Stein: Originally, Debbie’s second line of the song was, “Soon turned out, he was a pain in the ass.” Mike thought that might not play well on the radio, so I threw out a phrase, “heart of glass,” which everyone liked. Debbie worked it in as “Soon turned out, had a heart of glass.” That’s the title we used on the song.

Mr. Chapman: I asked Debbie which singer she liked most in the music business. She said, “Donna Summer,” particularly on “I Feel Love.” I never expected that. I said to her and Chris, “Why don’t we give this song a Giorgio Moroder feel?” Giorgio had produced Donna’s great albums.

Not the Droids You Were Looking For

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

While discussing cyber vulnerabilities in Star Wars, Jon Jeckell explains the limited role of droids:

Perhaps the marginal role and oddly circumscribed capabilities of computers and droids in Star Wars indicates past, even multiple past tragedies with artificially intelligent systems.

There’s evidence of this with killer robot and bounty hunter IG-88, allegedly a leftover from a smoldering droid/AI uprising. Although droids are capable of complex reasoning, tasks, and even emotion, their capabilities seem strangely circumscribed in many ways. R2D2 and C3PO are capable of fully autonomous action, complex reasoning and performing wide ranges of tasks, including many they were never designed to perform. Yet the first generation of Battle Droids fielded by the Separatists were kept under tight central control. They completely shut down in the middle of battle after Anakin Skywalker destroyed the central control ship. Later generations of Separatist war droids operated independently, but demonstrated severely constrained levels of intelligence compared with even the childlike intelligence of R2D2 and C3PO.

There is also a palpable disdain and distrust for droids, particularly in the aftermath of the Clone Wars. Written records cryptically mention that it is standard practice to wipe droid memory regularly. We know this only because Luke Skywalker insisted on making R2D2 an exception from this practice. This may also explain the ancillary role computers are given in operating ships and reveal why ships and fighters have such abysmally poor weapons targeting despite the power of computers and sensors.

Do you let your environment program you any way it wants?

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Movies and books form a mental structure in your head of what is possible and what is not, Scott Adams says, but these are artificial structures based on the rules of fiction, not reality:

Our brains like to force things into familiar boxes. If you have the world’s greatest idea to feed the poor, but it reminds people of The Hunger Games, you can count on folks saying it won’t work. Our brains run to the nearest analogy and stick to it like glue. That might be a problem if the nearest analogy is based on fiction.

I would like to see a study of decision-making based on how much fiction one consumes. My hypothesis is that consumers of fiction will draw their “experience” in part from fiction and it will warp their understanding of what is practical or possible in the real world.

When I was a teen, adults started yapping about how our hippy music was warping our minds. We laughed at how stupid that was. But as an educated adult I can see that music rewires our brains, just as any other experience does. So listening to angry music should, according to everything we understand about human behavior and the brain, rewire a kid to be more like the people singing the songs. Influence of that sort only requires a combination of identification with the singer’s message, repetition, and emotion; Popular music provide that in abundance.

My hypothesis is that reading anything raises your intelligence in a variety of ways, as one might imagine. But I think exposure to fiction makes you less grounded in the real world (subconsciously) and more likely to make decisions the way the captain of the Enterprise would have done it, for example.

And I also think music is reprogramming the brains of kids in unpredictable and potentially dangerous ways. To believe otherwise is to believe that music is somehow the one thing in our environment that does not rewire us through repetition and emotion.

I think you all agree that our environment influences us in small ways all the time. Everything you see and learn rewires your brain. If you think fiction and music have only trivial impacts on us, you probably have a different frame of reference from me. As a trained hobbyist-hypnotist I have a unique impression of how easily we moist robots can be rewired. And as a cartoonist/blogger I see a huge volume of human reactions to what I produce; that’s how I noticed a fiction-thinking pattern, or so I think.

This isn’t an opinion piece. I’m just offering a hypothesis that fiction and music are reprogramming us to the point of influencing our happiness and our decisions. And we let that rewiring happen according to our cravings for entertainment, not our intelligence.

My guess is that on a scale from 1 to 10, you think this negative impact of fiction and music is closer to a 2, and not something to worry about in a free society. My vantage point on this topic is different from that of most of you, and my observation is that the problem is closer to an 8.

Personally, I stopped consuming angry, violent, or unhappy fiction long ago. My anecdotal observation is that it makes a gigantic difference in my mental state. But everyone is different.

My question of the day is whether you choose your fiction and music based on how it will rewire your mood and your mind, or do you select it based on its entertainment value. To put it another way, do you let your environment program you any way it wants, or do you try to manage that process?

Is This the Most Played Song in Music History?

Friday, March 6th, 2015

What is the most played song ever?

Nobody famous sang this tune. It was never a hit single and got almost no play on Top 40 radio. There’s even a dispute over the exact title. Yet “It’s a Small World,” also known as “It’s a Small, Small World” and “It’s a Small World (After All),” is very likely the most played song in music history — nearly 50 million times. And it was first heard 50 years ago this month [April, 2014].

Various sources cite the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (1964) as having more than eight million plays on radio and TV, and The Beatles’ “Yesterday” (1965) with at least seven million in the U.S. alone, and many more in the rest of the world. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” introduced by Bing Crosby in 1942, has inundated the airwaves ever since, but for only a few weeks each year. There’s little debate that Patty and Mildred Hill’s “Happy Birthday to You” (originally “Good Morning to You”) has been performed more than any other song, but not in public; if you do, and don’t pay royalties, the possessive copyright holders at Warner/Chappell Music will sue your pants off — and take all your birthday gifts, too.

That leaves “It’s a Small World,” composed by Disney staff writers Richard and Robert Sherman for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair pavilion ride officially known as “PEPSI Present’s Walt Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’ — a Salute to UNICEF and the World’s Children.” In his authoritative 1998 book Songwriters: A Biographical Dictionary with Discographies, Nigel Harrison proclaims the song “the most performed composition in the world.” Richard Sherman, the surviving brother, thinks so too.

Thoughts with Cookie Monster

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Me admit, me like thoughts with Cookie Monster:

Weaponized Teen Soldiers in an Intergalactic War

Friday, February 27th, 2015

When you remake a beloved children’s TV show, you make it darker and edgier.

Like an Opera

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

I didn’t realize that John Milius was personal friends with Basil Poledouris when he hired him to score Conan The Barbarian:

The two had worked together earlier on Big Wednesday. Milius brought Poledouris on before filming had even begun, giving them time to discuss the emotional overtones that were right for the score. He asked Poledouris to begin work based on the storyboards and to anticipate recording the music once production was winding down.

The composer wrote “two hours of music for Conan,” he told Starlog in 1982. “It was always in John’s mind that Conan would be solid music — much like an opera…. From the first frame of reel one to the end of the Wheel of Pain sequence, somewhere in the middle of reel three, is one long cue without any break. I was terrified when I first realized that.”

Once filming was completed, Milius gave Poledouris two tapes of the finished film, one without music and the other with excerpts from the work of Wagner, Stravinsky and Prokofiev. Poledouris was intimidated by the prospect of having to compare favorably to these legendary composers, but soon found his groove once he realized that their work was just intended by Milius as an aesthetic starting point.

Conan’s personal theme — “The Riddle of Steel” — began as a basic melodic line set to a poem, written as if the composer was Conan’s bard. The underlying melody was later filled out with an epic dose of brass, strings and percussion. The main musical theme, the “Anvil of Crom,” is just as muscular, described by film music historian Laurence MacDonald as “the brassy sound of twenty-four French horns in a dramatic intonation of the melody, while pounding drums add an incessantly driven rhythmic propulsion.”

For the music that was to accompany Thulsa Doom’s opening attack on Conan’s village, Milius wanted a chorus based on Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. However, after discovering that Excalibur (1981) had already used Orff’s work, he asked Poledouris for original material. The result consists of choral passages chanted by Doom’s cohort as a tribute to his name. Poledouris wrote the lyrics in English and had them crudely translated into Latin, as he was “more concerned about the way the Latin words sounded than with the sense they actually made.” The lyrics were subsequently set to a melody adapted from the 13th-century Gregorian hymn, Dies Irae, chosen to “communicate the tragic aspects of the cruelty wrought by Thulsa Doom.”

Martin Luther Playmobil Toy is Fastest-Selling of All Time

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

The fastest-selling Playmobil figure of all time depicts the founding father of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, Martin Luther:

The German toy manufacturer announced this week that the first edition of 34,000 pieces sold out in less than 72 hours, forcing the company to urgently request its factory in Malta to produce more of the so-called “little Luthers”. Fans have been warned that the next batch will not be available until the end of April.

Playmobil Martin Luther

The plastic toy, complete with a quill, German-language bible and cheery grin, was produced for the German and Nuremberg tourist boards and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, as Germany gears up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.

Their Albrecht Dürer figure also sold well.

Playmobil Albrecht Duerer

Lord Of The Rings Illustrations by Chinese Artist Jian Guo

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Enjoy these Lord Of The Rings illustrations by Chinese artist Jian Guo:

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 09

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 08

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 07

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 06

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 05

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 04

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 03

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 02

Lord Of The Rings by Jian Guo 01