26 August 2009

Master Miyazaki

If you are tired of being spoon fed your animated movies (with the exception of films by Pixar), then you need to quickly acquaint yourself with the work of Hayao Miyazaki -- not only Japan's greatest animated-film maker, but possibly the world's.

Working in animation since 1963, Miyazaki's films are all one-of-a-kind treasures in film making, presenting images and themes not seen anywhere else.

Here you will find a short primer on essential Miyazaki viewing -- but make sure you add "Pom Poko" (pictured).

You can read more about the artist here.

24 August 2009

Who You Callin' Vestigial?

Pity the poor appendix (pictured), long removed and discarded as little more than a remnant of something in our bodies that used to be useful.

But, wait! New research shows that maybe the little dickens is not useless after all -- maybe it serves a very important function!

Read more about the meteoric rise of your appendix here.

23 August 2009

Here We Are Again

Those post-war years (1945-1955) were heady times, indeed.

Gone was the need to donate glass and metal to the war effort; to save cooking fat to be used for bombs; to go without shoes, coffee, gas and rubber tires; to use every spare penny to purchase war bonds and stamps. The pendulum had swung quite a distance during the war and was swinging just as far the other way. Ours was suddenly a world of plenty, where houses were sprouting like so many mushrooms after a rain, cars were being purchased faster than they could roll off the assembly line, and a deprived people were buying washing machines, dryers, cooking ranges, ovens, refrigerators and more at a pace that has never been seen since.

America won a war, and technology seemed poised to take the entire world into a brighter and more prosperous era. Many of these technological developments came directly from war work, and the transition to peace time seemed simple.

One of the changes that greeted a war-weary populace was casual convenience. Suddenly there was so much of everything that you could buy new appliances every couple years. A two-year-old car? Get a new one. Tired of washing dishes? Use paper plates instead. It was a turn from conservative conservation of resources to a time when everything was virtually disposable.

A brief piece in Life magazine (01 Aug 1955) captured the spirit of these times remarkably well. Titled "Throwaway Living," the article extolled the virtue of disposable items and how they cut down on household chores. (The photograph above is the original that was trimmed and used in the magazine to accompany the article.)

"The objects flying through the air in this picture would take 40 hours to clean -- except that no housewife need bother. They are all meant to be thrown away after use. Many are new; others, such as paper plates and towels, have been around a long time but are now being made more attractive.

"At the bottom of the picture, to the left of a New York City Department of Sanitation trash can, are some throwaway vases and flowers, popcorn that pops in its own pan. Moving clockwise around the photograph come assorted frozen food containers, a checkered paper napkin, a disposable diaper (seriously suggested as one reason for a rise in the U.S. birth rate) and, behind it, a baby's bib. At top are throwaway water wings, foil pans, paper tablecloth, guest towels and a sectional plate. At right is an all-purpose bucket and, scattered throughout the picture, paper cups for beer and highballs. In the basket are throwaway draperies, ash trays, garbage bags, hot pads, mats and a feeding dish for dogs. At the base of the basket are two items for hunters to throw away: disposable geese and duck decoys."

It is amazing to realize that, scarcely two generations later, this type of photograph and article would never appear today. We have experienced wasteful extravagance and returned to thoughtful conservation of our resources. Once again, we are conserving glass, recycling paper and metals, and reusing whatever we can. This time, however, we are doing it not because there is a war on; rather, because it is (and always has been) the right thing to do.

22 August 2009

Fun With Mimeographs!

Who here remembers the mimeograph machine (pictured)? I used one of these when I was in elementary school. I always volunteered to help the teacher, and one of the tasks was making copies of things like quizzes for the class. It worked like this:

I used a special piece of paper and typed the words. When this was done, I pulled out the pieces of paper where the letters were. This makes holes in the paper, creating a stencil.

Next, I affixed the stencil to the drum in the middle of the machine (marked by A).

Blank paper was placed in the tray on the left (B).

Ink would be placed somewhere in the machine (I don't remember that part) but the ink would ooze through the drum.

I turned the crank (C) that turned the drum. Ink oozed from the drum through the stencil and onto the blank sheet.

The copy would come out in the tray at right (D).

Although this was fun in itself, the best part was the smell of the ink. It is a very specific smell probably created by many carcinogenic chemicals, but that's okeh. That smell was wonderful. I don't know why, but it was.

Anyway, the copies would be kinda damp so I would have to be careful collecting them and passing them out.

Sometimes technology can ruin a good thing.

16 August 2009

Live Radio

If you are like me, you probably lie awake at night listening to a vintage radio drama or comedy on your iPod, and think about what it must have been like broadcasting one of those radio programs. Unfortunately, we cannot go back in time to witness an actual radio performance; but, thanks to the miracle of vintage magazines, you can take a glimpse of such a moment in time.

In this image (click to enlarge) you will see the recording of an installment of the Lux Radio Theater -- live from Hollywood in 1947.

How many of the actors you can recognize? The two actors standing became quite famous. There are two additional famous film actors seated (one male and one female). And there is a man seated who became, shall we say, very big in television.

[Thanks to Matt for scanning this neato image!]

14 August 2009

Change is Good

I love good design -- I might not have the talent needed to actually design something, but I certainly can appreciate it when it is good.

Fortune magazine recently had an article showcasing the re-design of logos for 12 well-known companies. I find this kind of thing totally fascinating not just because of the reasons for the changes, but also because some of the designs are just so damned clever.

The only problem I have with the Fortune piece is that it is too short. Had they more room, it would have been nice to show the progress of logos from the oldest to the newest. For example, on the section for International Business Machines, it would have been great to include the insanely clever Paul Rand resign done in 1970 (pictured).

You can review the showcase of logo designs here.

You can see more superb Paul Rand designs here.

13 August 2009

8,826 Miles

I just got a new iPod, which I ordered over the internet; and I want to tell you about the adventure it took in getting to me:

On Sunday, 09 August, I ordered a new iPod classic. On Monday, 10 August, I got an email saying it shipped. I got a FedEx tracking number, so I went and checked out the little guy's progress -- surprised to find my iPod was coming all the way from Shanghai, China! (Probably no one finds this surprising but me.)

Anyway, I followed the progress daily until today when it got delivered (less than 96 hours after ordering) and then made this map (click to enlarge) showing its progress -- including dates, locations and approximate miles it travelled to my house in Phoenix (8,826).

12 August 2009

Today's Quiz

Okeh, here's a quiz:

Who is stupider?

A: The people who insist the health care reform plans in America call for the creation of "death panels" at which the elderly will be advised on how to kill themselves


B: The people who believe it

08 August 2009

Sounds of the 'Sixties

I was totally the wrong person to be growing up in the 1960s. I could not stand the crappy hippie music (The Beatles? Blech!) I was not into drugs (I was just a kid) and the fashions were atrocious! But I remained culturally linked in by television. I wrote about my favorite shows in a previous entry. This time, I want to write about the television theme music that was so hot at the time.

John Williams worked on many shows, but he did some of his best work on "Land of the Giants" (1968-1970). The show was kinda campy (even then) but Gary Conway was easy on the eyes, and the music was top rate. In fact, Williams wrote two themes: one for the first season and one for the second. I have never heard a good explanation as to why he wrote two. Although the second season theme was excellent, the first season theme was considerably better. Take a listen:

"Land of the Giants" season one theme.

"Land of the Giants" season two theme.

Across the pond in England, audiences were enjoying a nifty little show called "Department S" (1969-1970). I discovered this show only a couple years ago via the great theme music written (I think) by Edwin Astley (I cannot find a good source on this). I watched an episode or two of this series and it is not very interesting, but the theme is. Take a listen:

"Department S" theme.

As a basis for comparison, here is the theme music for arguably the best television show ever: "Mission: Impossible" (1966-1973) written by Lalo Schifrin. Great music for a great show. Take a listen:

"Mission: Impossible" theme.

I find it notable that these four themes are essentially from the same time, but so different: "Department S" is classy and swinging, but "Land of the Giants" and "Mission: Impossible" are pounding, eager, exciting and very American -- yet, oddly, all are first-rate examples of the craft.

06 August 2009

Death of an Industry

Today on NPR was a really fascinating segment on the death of the industry to which I have devoted more than 30 years of my life: print and broadcast journalism. It is part of the digital revolution -- a larger issue that includes the death of the music and television industries as we have known them. According to the author of "The Chaos Scenario" what we see happening today in the realm of mass media is akin to the death of the dinosaurs and the rise of the smaller and smarter mammals. Frightening? Sort of.

You can read more about the book and hear the show on NPR here.

01 August 2009

Shark! (Week)

I love sharks. The only thing I like more than sharks is "Shark Week" which begins tomorrow on the Discovery Channel.

[Disclaimer: Although I wish they were, Discovery Channel is not paying me to write this blog entry.]

You may read more about Shark Week here. You will find the Discovery Channel Shark Week schedule here.