Thursday, August 25, 2011


Whoa! It's almost the same cast as Footlight Parade, my favorite movie! No Cagney though, and a considerably goofier movie. I mean, sure, I have a movie crush on Ruby Keeler, but even I think this goes a little far.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Winnie the Pooh

Oh my God! They didn't mess this up! The new Winnie the Pooh movie (real live cinematic release) is quite charming, clever, and fun, and does a good job of capturing the spirit of the original books. The scene were they are trapped in the pit is masterful, and it is great fun to visit all the characters again, who are each the way they have always been, most importantly, Eeyore. (Spoiler alert) Upon the re-installation of Eeyore's missing tail:
PIGLET: So, are you happy Eeyore?
EEYORE:  No. But I sure do like this new tail.
There is a peculiar short at the start of the film which is a weird poem about the Loch Ness Monster. It was kind of derogatory to the Scots, and frankly, I could have done without it. But the movie itself was delightful. I'm sure that Randy would have enjoyed it. Knowing him, he most likely had some hand in it. My daughter had to ask, "So... was that a new or old movie?" which I think is compliment enough.

Little Lulu: The Big Dipper Club and Other Stories

Yeah, I'm on a Little Lulu kick. Another Full Color volume! I have to make an observation here: Cartman on South Park IS Tubby. They are both articulate fat kids, spoiled by their moms, are always up to trickery and evil, are always shrieking at people who disrespect them, and are always talking to themselves about their evil plans. They both have elaborate fantasy lives, and they both always wear a hat. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were born in 1969 and 1971 respectively, so it is entirely possible that they grew up reading Little Lulu comics off the newsstands just like I did. Someone should ask them about this...

Little Lulu: The Bawlplayers and Other Stories

Yes! Full Color! This is more like it! I continue to be fascinated with Little Lulu stories. They have multiple levels to them -- they aren't really children's stories, in most cases. I keep wondering if Charles Schultz was influenced by the Little Lulu universe at all -- the kids are so emotional, so philosophical, and act so much like adults. I guess the way to put it is that there is a real moral ambiguity in these stories -- children are continually doing evil, and getting away with it. Punchlines are, more often than not, about lack of comeuppance, not about actual comeuppance. Joe Wos says he'll ask Jeannie Schultz if her husband ever mentioned Little Lulu. I wonder what she'll say?

Little Lulu: Late for School

I was a huge fan of Little Lulu comics when I was a kid, and the quality of these comics was one of the few things my parents agreed about. I was excited to find that there are reprints. Though -- this volume is without color, which somehow saps the power of the comics... I'm not sure why. I picked this one because it had a story in it that changed my life! Lulu's story of the Giant Snowman, which she tells to Alvin, of course. Her ability to just make up a story on the spot, especially one that was so creative and engaging fascinated me. I found myself telling the snowman story to my friends, just as Lulu did, as if I had made it up, and I was fascinated with how engaging they found it. It made me believe that I could tell a story that people would care about... even if it wasn't my own.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Computers: An Illustrated History

This book, by Christian Wurster, is an excellent history of the major developments in computing hardware from the 40's to 2002, when this book was published. It is a mixture of straightforward reporting on the facts, combined with reminiscences from people who were there, and fascinating photographs of hardware, interfaces, and people making use of them. It is rare to find a book that so clearly lays out the history so that you can see how dramatically things have continuously changed for the last 70 years. There is something in us that wants to master a technology, and see it stay, and so we act as if it will stay. I can still remember, vividly, the intensity with which I tried to master coding the PDP-11 back in 1985, building castles of code, as if it would always be there, forever and ever. And of course, a year later, I was doing the same thing with VAX/VMS. And now, we're all acting like iOS is some kind of permanent entity. I'm definitely keeping this book, as a handy reference to talk to students about how things used to be. It's weird to see it, and not see any smartphones and tablets -- the only touchscreen in the whole book is the HP 150 from 1983 -- and its only good app was checkers. I remember seeing that back then when I got to take a tour of the HP plant, and thinking "that is not going to catch on." It finally did, it just took about 25 years.

Sheesh! I wonder what is next?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lord Valentine's Castle

I started reading this book in 1988, and just finished it now. It's a fantasy novel featuring a troupe of jugglers. There is lots of detailed talk about juggling patterns and what it feels like to perform, etc., which is novel and interesting, especially if you are a juggling nerd like me. Majipoor makes a pretty interesting story world (a hundred billion people, multiple alien races, etc.), and there are some cool events... but instead of building to some great climactic ending, the novel kind of peaks in the middle, and then gradually runs downhill. I know there are more books in the series, but I doubt I'll read them. If I understand right, the Flying K's helped consult on some of the juggling stuff, and it shows -- some of their juggling philosophy is in there. My two favorite parts of this book are that it does a good job of explaining what skilled juggling feels like, and also this picture of the author on the back cover.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Eye and Brain

I read this when I was preparing my Seeing talk last year. It's a really fun way to learn more about the eye, how it evolved, how it works, etc. And it comes with 3D glasses. Eyes are cool.


It was a beautiful and sad story of high school angst -- though, honestly, after I read it, I remembered almost nothing.

The Boy Who Bit Picasso

I found this at the Baltic art museum in Newcastle upon Tyne. It is a fantastic children's book, in which Anthony Penrose tells stories from his childhood about visits with Picasso. The best part is that his mother was a photographer, and so the book is full of photos from these visits. The title story in the book goes this way:
I don't remember this, but Mum told everyone that one day, when we were playing, I got over-excited and I naughtily bit Picasso. Picasso turned around and bit me right back -- hard! Just before I started to yell, Mum heard Picasso say, in French, 'Gosh! That's the first Englishman I've ever bitten!'
It is a wonderful book, with wonderful photos and stories.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Doctor Who #3: The Edge of Destruction

Oh man. Even though this is only a two-episode story, it's crazy fun. The whole thing takes place on the TARDIS -- apparently because there were production delays for sets and costumes with story #4, Marco Polo! But that's cool, because this story is awesome. Obviously I'm going to give spoilers -- if that's a problem, get out now! So... leaving Skaro (in a hurry) there is suddenly an explosion on board the TARDIS, and everyone is knocked out. Everyone seems to be suffering some kind of space madness featuring amnesia and moodiness. On top of that, the TARDIS is behaving very strangely. It just shows a series of pictures on the scanner screen, outside the doors is pure whiteness, and it shocks people who touch certain parts of the console. And, oh yeah, all the clocks have melted. After two episodes of this incredible weirdness (the second episode is called The Brink of Disaster -- hee) -- they figure it out. In their hurry to leave Skaro, the Doctor hit the "fast return" switch (You know it is the fast return switch, because someone wrote "fast return" with a black marker next to it), which is kind of like the "last channel" button on your TV remote. It is supposed to take you back to where you just were. (Side note: Really? Is this a for-real button on the TARDIS? Because it would have been incredibly useful in, oh, I don't know ALMOST EVERY EPISODE OF THE SHOW!) Anyway, it turns out that it got stuck down -- physically stuck down, when the Doctor pushed it... and so... it appears that it whizzed the TARDIS back in time, past 100,000 BC Earth, and all the way to the Big Bang... the start of the Universe, before there was time, and thus, the melting clocks. The Doctor doesn't say this, per se... he rambles a bit about how exciting it is to be there for the birth of a star... but, uh, the story is way better if it's the big bang, so, I'm going with that.

There is a ton of stuff that makes no sense in this episode... Susan has a psycho moment, and appears to lose control of herself, fighting urges to stab Ian with scissors; the Doctor drugs everyone for no reason, and later everyone is amused by that; every though time has stopped, time on the TARDIS is still going, and if they don't do something soon the TARDIS will be destroyed,  etc. But... it was a super fun episode. We got to learn more about the characters, and we learn the most about the TARDIS. Apparently, it can think for itself, "machine thoughts" as the Doctor explains... but it just can't communicate very well. It clearly has a kind of safety system it will use to protect itself and it's inhabitants... this is definitely the first time the TARDIS is shown to have intelligence, something that is revisted many times in future episodes.

Quotes and Notes:

  • Barbara is still wearing Thal pants!
  • Ian listens to the Doctor's heartbeat... but doesn't notice his second heart. Heh -- maybe one of them stopped!
  • "I can't take you back Susan... I can't!"
  • The food machine doesn't work at the beginning of time... for some reason...
  • Susan uses special ointment from the TARDIS first aid kit -- when the wound is healed, it turns white.
  • Susan has a bed? Turns out Susan and Barbara are roommates. 
  • Susan's psycho scene was totally horrifying. 
  • "I must check the coordinates." <-- Why are the coordinates so far from the console?
  • "I recognize that... That's where we nearly lost the TARDIS, four or five journeys back." "Yes, the planet Quinnis, of the fourth universe." <-- do they mean Galaxy 4?
  • "Did I ever tell you that the ship has a memory bank, hmm?"
  • It would appear William Hartnell forgot some lines for the melting clock scene... rendering it somewhat unintelligible. 
  • "One man's law is another man's crime."
  • The ending of episode 1 was awesome. 
  • The danger signal? I guess this is the cloister bell?
  • "We had time taken away from us, but now it's given back to us, because it's running out!"
  • Interesting fact: The height of the column rise on the console tells how much power the TARDIS is using.
  • "You know, I acquired that ulster from Gilbert and Sullivan." "Really? I thought it was made for two." :)
These old episodes are totally fun. 

Horrifically Bad Album Covers

This book is definitely fun -- though a lot of covers aren't as horrifically bad as I would have expected. But... some are positively insane.