Thursday, June 30, 2016

Our World Grows Smaller

Our world grows a little smaller each day, but as the comedian, Stephen Wright, has said, "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it."  I bought a cheap Kindle Fire the other day at Amazon, for $50.  I didn't want to get anything expensive as I didn't really know what all they did, and didn't know if I'd use it much, so that was about the right price point for me.  I've checked out many of its features though, and it's a pretty neat device.  You can listen to music, play games, watch movies, access the web through the Silk Browser, shoot photos with the built-in camera, read, and it's pretty handy for all that.

If you are reading in bed or dim lighting it lights up so it makes it easier to read, and automatically bookmarks pages for you, so you can pick right up where you left off, there's a function that will allow audio reading, and another function that will train you to read faster if that's one of your goals.  All in all it's a pretty diverse and handy device, and it's one of those devices that as time goes on, I suspect will upgrade itself and get better and better.  That would be great as well.   One of the small cons right now is the battery life, which if you do much on it the battery only last about a day and needs recharging, but like I said, give it a few more years, and they'll probably find ways to extend that as well.

One of the other advantages to an eReader is that you can find a lot of books for free, granted not everything, but there's plenty.  Plus Amazon has a lot of cheap deals as well for a buck or not much money.  Also many libraries will allow you to read their ebooks if you are a member.  I wish there was a web library for things of that nature.  I don't know why there isn't one.  Why would I have to be a member of a specific local library, when they give you two or three weeks to read an ebook, and then you can re-check it out, or it disappears off the device?  Doesn't make a lot of sense to me.  I don't know how that type thing works, but my guess is the local library doesn't physically do anything to make the books appear or vanish.  So I don't know.

Anyway even if you don't have an ebook, you can read a lot of stuff online with just a computer connection.  Openculture.com has a lot of free books, movies, and other things.  Here's a link to one of them that has free art books.   And here's another one that has some classic literature.
They also got some audio books here.  Some of those links on those sites may turn up dead or don't work, but if you search about a bit you can probably find what you're looking for.

If music is more your thing, like it is mine, here's a couple of my favorite web radio stations:

If you like jazz, check out AccuRadio.com. 

If you like progressive rock, check out AuralMoon.com 

If you like a mixture of different type thing, but particularly electronic, space music, New Age, jazz, and that type thing, check out SomaFM.com.    

If none of that appeals to you there's always Spotify, Pandora, etc.

The other night I watched Michael Moore's new documentary, Where to Invade Next.  I know Moore's a rather polarizing figure, particularly if you lean to the right end of politics.  But I think this might be one of  his more moderate, politically leaning film.  It was not what I expected.

I expected it to be some sort of criticism on how the US always seems to be stirring up the pot by waging war all the time, but it was not.  Rather what Moore does here is visit or invade other countries to see what he considers good ideas or ways of life that might be brought back to America and considered.  He's not saying we can or should do everything that he at or America sucks or even whether or not that they would work, as he says in the film, "I'm picking flowers here, not weeds."

One of the first places he visits is Italy.  He investigates how their people get way more time off than Americans, unbelievably more.  Also how their companies don't mind sharing more of their profits to the workers because let's face it, they would not be in the position they are in without them.  He goes to France, Germany, Sweden, and a few other places, and within each little segment he reveals a little eye opener, at least for me.  I think a lot of people see Moore as a gadfly or left wing commie, but I enjoy his films because at least they make you think, and he sides with the middle class.  Perhaps there are better ways to do things than the status quo, and if you can change things to benefit everyone's lives, why  not do it?  Does that mean that change will create  nirvana, no not likely.  Life will always have its ups and downs.  Does it mean with change, you might have to sacrifice something else somewhere else, probably...  more than likely.  But if you change something, and it doesn't work out that doesn't mean you can't change it back or change it another way to improve it.

I also liked that he included a bit more humor in this film, which seemed to go back to his first film, Roger & Me.  All in all it was good documentary, one of his better ones, and offered food for thought. 





Tuesday, June 28, 2016

King and George R R Martin

I really don't think any introductions are needed for these next two gentlemen.  I thought I'd post it because a few others might be fans of either or both Stephen King and George R R Martin.  As for me I enjoy them both, although I've not read any of Martin's books.  However, I have his first Game of Thrones book, and I'm a huge fan of the show.  I've got Season 5 ready to queue up on my Netflix and I've avoided all the spoilers as much as possible.  So I'll be diving into that later on this week.

I've not seen either of the videos I'm putting up as they are fairly new, so whether they are great to watch or a rehash of something else, I'm as just as in the dark as anyone.  But I'm going to put them both up in case you're as interested as I am.



Monday, June 27, 2016

Dr. Who Saturday

Last night I watched a Doctor Who episode, Revenge of the Cybermen.  I had seen it before, but had forgotten some of the story because it's a pretty convoluted episode so it's worth seeing more than once.  Actually many of the Doctor Who episodes are that way for various reasons.

It has Tom Baker playing the doctor in it along with Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) as his companion and Lieutenant Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter).  It was one of those episodes that was recorded back-to-back with the previous episode, The Ark in Space, and  uses some of the same sets for both episodes.  However, with Revenge of the Cybermen they also use a pretty interesting cave-like setting that is supposed to be the inside of an asteroid called Voga.  (The scenes were actually filmed at a place in the UK known as Wookey Hole.  Gotta love that name.)
 
It concerns a plague or so the crew members think that has infected their space station called Nerva, and it has killed off nearly all their crew.  They are quarantined from most of the station.  The doctor and crew have materialized there awaiting the return of the TARDIS by the way of a wrist band gizmo. 

One of the crew members aboard the  station is a traitor, which you learn pretty early on, and he is seeking the gold inside the asteroid along with parts of an alien race that have mined Voga which he has teamed up with known as the Guardians.  Both have forged a secret alliance for their own gains.  The Cybermen want the asteroid destroyed as gold it contains mucks up their breathing apparatus and kills them.  So essentially the Cybermen want to destroy it. 

Eventually the crew members aboard the Nerva station find out the traitor, and find out that the doctor and crew are really the good guys, however, of course, the crew gets separated and part of the  story deals with that, part deal with thwarting the Cybermen, part of it is dealing with the Guardians, also part is trying to prevent them from blowing up Voga, and so on.  It was a fun episode.

Oh, and while on the subject of Doctor Who I found a Doctor Who Podcast Alliance, which collects podcast on the series for those interested in that.  Check it out here.  

Before the Doctor Who episode, however, our PBS station out of Dallas has started broadcasting the BBC series, Life On Mars.  A few years ago I caught the sequel series to this, Ashes to Ashes, partly because it had certain time travel tropes in it, and partly because the main actress playing one of the main leads was so attractive and the cast seemed to mesh so well together that it hooked me.  I was curious about the original series, but never got around to watching it.

Both take place around 1973, and in both iirc, the two leads get sent back to the past by way of a coma/concussion.  I know it sounds odd, but it works.  It is really a detective series with some speculative time travel things thrown into it, but it makes for a compelling series to watch.   The series deals with the main character feeling like a fish out of water, and wanting someone to get him a cell phone, and of course the people around him go "Huh?"  because it has not been invented yet, and neither has the more modern forensic sciences, or computers, and what-have-you.  Along with the character trying to adjust to this new world and wondering if it's a dream or he's gone crazy, you (as a viewer) also remember (if you were alive then) all the things that were hip or in vogue at that time during the 70s like record shops, the clothing, the culture, and the like.  Plus another interesting bonus is the soundtrack to the series as they play music from that era as well, which for me is a lot of fun.

At any rate, this double feature back to back showing of Life On Mars and Doctor Who with Tom Baker has a rather winning SF Saturday lineup.  Plus before all that Star Trek: TOS shows just before they start.  So if you're a couch potato on Saturdays like me, it's all good.

Today while trolling the web I ran into some little videos on YT called Bad Days.  They are similar to something like the animation on Robot Chicken, but maybe not quite as cutting edge.  The one below is about Doctor Who, but they have them on other pop culture like Planet of the Apes, super heroes,  TV shows, and the like.




Friday, June 24, 2016

Free Music

I ran across this the other day so I thought I'd share.  I've always been a progressive music fan since the late 60s.  It's hard to designate what the first progressive rock album was.  Some say it was The Beatles' Sgt. Peppers, some say it was King Crimson's In The Court of the Crimson King or early Pink Floyd or another British band, Yes.

There are also albums on the verge of that sound that came out of the psychedelic era that some refer to as proto-prog, which came out around that time like Spirit's first self-titled album or The Who's Quadrophenia, or Deep Purple's In Rock.   So it's real hard to target an exact group, but I generally enjoyed and still enjoy a lot of those bands.  To me, it was one of the most creative eras of rock music.  The music was headier,  more complex and layered, sometimes like that Crimson album and Spirit's album or say some of the Mothers of Invention albums or Soft Machine's earlier work it was music that didn't just automatically click.  They were less accessible than normal rock.  You had to listen to them many times to get into them.  They more or less grew on you.  That's my favorite kind of music.  The same can be said for early Genesis or say Van Der Gaaf Generator.    In fact some of this music for some folks is quite repellent even today.

I remember having some friends over and trying to describe Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention or even Captain Beefhearts' music.  But once they actually heard some of it, you could tell it was liking hitting a brick wall.  They couldn't get into it much at all, which to some degree I find hilarious.  Sometimes youth can be rather brash when they discover some new band that they feel is so vanguard, but just put on some older Zappa or Beefhearts and you'll clear the room.

At any rate, there's plenty of jazz, jazz-rock, and fusion that also fits within that genre.  Soft Machine is one, and there's a lot of fusion acts and musicians like Mahavishnu Orchestra,  Eberhard Weber, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, and so on that also are included in that genre.

At any rate I found a good deal I thought I'd share that comes from the recording company of Moonjune records.  They are allowing you to download a sampler of their music for free until the end of June.  It gives a good cross section of the artist they handle and contains many styles of progressive rock.  Check it out here. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Syd Mead

Although I've been a SF fan ever since I was a kid, and even though some of those films along with some of the horror films I watched as a kid gave me nightmares, I still remain a big SF fan today.  I'm not real sure why, other than I just like that world of wonder that you enter that entertains the thought that humans are witnessing something extraordinary, beyond our current "real" world.  It's an intoxicating melange for sure.   Plus there are so many aspects of it that you can get into as well:  comics, movies, (which may have been my start point), collecting  DVDs, collecting the soundtracks from SF films, books, book covers, collecting memorabilia, collecting autographs or pictures of some of your favorite stars that have appeared in those movies, blogs about SF, magazines devoted to it,  SF posters (I have one from Barbarella),  collecting props, movie art,  or art work in general.

That leads us to Syd Mead.   After training in industrial design at the Art Center School in Las Angeles, he began his career as a staff designer for his paintings for the 1961 book Concepts for the U.S. Steel Corporation earning him national attention.  Among the concepts that Mead visualized was a quadrupedal vehicle that ultimately became the inspiration for At-At's (All Terrain Armored Transports, or elephant-like walking tanks) that appeared in Lucas's Star Wars sequel,  The Empire Strikes Back.


Mead is now in great demand as a production designer for SF movies and has collaborated on such films as Star Trek-The Motion Picture (1979) Blade Runner (1982), 2010 (1984), Short Circuit (1986),  and Aliens (1986), among others.   In addition to his handsomely stylish artifacts, Mead has also pioneered the look on film of a well-worn, gritty future--as if it had evolved from some real world.  Mead's designs of the ruined 21st century Los Angeles for Blade Runner, as a prime example, project a startling vision of urban decay and cultural decadence that is all to chillingly plausible.

There is currently a documentary or DVD on Syd Mead, but I haven't watched it yet or really know where to look for it.  I was hoping to watch it off Netflix or some other streaming service, but I haven't tracked down an available copy.  Perhaps Amazon has a copy, I'm still looking.  I did find a trailer for it on Youtube, and on it Mead says he started drawing and making art as a small child (you can sure tell).  



The soundtrack by the way for the Syd Mead documentary comes from the electronic composer, Richard Souther, who also goes by the name of Douglas Towbridge on some of his other CDs.  It seems the right fit for the documentary, you can hear snippets of it while watching that first YT video.  Souther has been around for a while too, generally his albums are found on smaller recording labels.  One of the earliest albums by him is on the budget Laserlight labels, called Heirborne (1985).  Although one might pass over that particular album due to it being a budget label, Laserlight have actually issued some pretty good albums in many genres. 

Heirborne came out in just about the peak of the New Age phenomena, and has those hallmarks.  I'd also say some people tend to dismiss New Age music as well.  I know at one time many referred to New Age music as "wallpaper music"  I guess referring to it being pleasant, but somewhat uninteresting and not worth paying attention to or that it tends to blend into the background.  I guess I'd say that is their loss since I enjoy a lot of it.  I probably should do a Top Ten New Age albums list.  I'd agree that it is pleasant, most of the time,  but disagree that it is of any less worth, or not deserving of one's attention.  If fact due to its pleasant nature, I find it's the perfect type music to listen to when helping to unwind at the end of a day.   At any rate, below is a song from Richard Souther's album, Heirborne.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Forgotten Films

Directed by James Goldstone, who also directed the pilot episode of Star Trek (1966) - Where No Man Has Gone Before.   Some say this is better than the Star Trek: The Next Generation series.  I can't say that as I haven't watched it yet.  But I ran across it on YT, so thought I'd post it here.

Earth Star Voyager is a science fiction television movie about a space mission to find another planet suitable for colonization. It was shown on the Wonderful World of Disney in 1988.  The show aired as a two-part pilot, but was never picked up for a series and has not been released on DVD, although a fan base for the pilot has grown over the years.   The cast includes:  Duncan Regehr (Jacob Jake Brown), Julia Montgomery (Sally Arthur - MD), Brian McNamara (Jonathan Hays), Jason Michas (Jessie Beanie Bienstock), Peter Donat (Admiral Beasley).

 It is now six years later, in the year 2088. Command cadet Jonathan Hays, twenty-one, and his best friend Jessie Beanie Bienstock, a 14-year-old computer specialist, are among the young military cadets chosen to serve as the crew of Earth Star Voyager, the planets newest interstellar vessel. Due to worsening ecological conditions on Earth, there is a plan in place to evacuate the planet and colonize another world.  

Probes have been sent out six years ago via the Vanguard Explorer, and one has sent data back on Berensons Star; she has a life-zone planet which has been named Demeter. The mission of Earth Star Voyager is to go to Demeter, perform a full planetary survey and return that information because if conditions on Demeter prove accurate (the probes data indicates that human life could survive on Demeter), then the human race will colonize the world. The plan to colonize Demeter has already begun; ships are already being built to transport the population but will take forty years to complete construction of all the necessary vessels, and the trip to Demeter, with plasma-thrust engines and the Bauman Drive (named for Professor Bauman, the creator) will take 26 years. That was the rationale of choosing the crew from the Academy—for their youth and intelligence. Jonathan, as second-in-command, will assume command if Forbes is shown to be unable to continue his duties due to age. It is also mentioned that a modified form of cryogenic suspension will be used by the crew during the voyage in order to slow the ageing process. (Beanie mentions that he'll be forty years old upon their return to Earth, and Captain Forbes also mentions that although the process will slow their ageing, they will still age.)

At any rate, I'd never heard of this SF film, and thought I'd share it here.  Both parts are present on Youtube, so if that appeals to you as well, check it out.  

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

John Carpenter - The Thing

Just a quickie posting today on John Carpenter and his remake of the movie, The Thing, which was adapted from John W. Campbell Jr.'s story, Who Goes There?  It was written under the pen name Don A. Stuart, first published in the August 1938 Astounding Science-Fiction.  The article I'm going to link to has been culled from the magazines Starlog and Fangoria, and maybe a few other articles.  But it's all in one long piece, and has several nice photos as well, so it's pretty neat to have it all in one spot.  The article says it was a game-changer, and I'd pretty much have to agree with that due the way it bumped up special effects for the time, and adding more gore than usual.

Go here to read the article. 


If you have not seen the film, Jacob's Ladder, and you're a horror fan or a fan of thrillers and suspense, you're missing a good film.  It stars Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer, a man who lives in a nightmare.  Wounded in Vietnam he returns to New York City.  Torn between the memories of his son and terrifying wartime demons, Jacob is slowly losing his grip on reality.   His girlfriend (Elizabeth Pena) only adds confusion to his life, drawing him into a web of sexual intrigue, but ultimately, it's his friend Louis (Danny Aiello), who turns out to be the only one Jacob can count on.   This is one of those movies that offers food for thought afterwards, and multiple watchings as some of the film is taken out of sequence and is not linear in its storytelling device.  Check it out over on Youtube, it's commercial free and put up by Paramount  films. 




Saturday, June 04, 2016

Synthesizers

The wonderful Japanese composer of synthesizer music, Isao Tomita passed away the other day.  He was still creating music at 84.  Early in his career he composed the soundtrack for Tezuka Osamu’s anime “Kimba the White Lion."   A message on Tomita’s official Facebook page said he was working on a new musical titled “Dr. Coppelius” and that he knew he might not see it finished.

Tomita had recently been working on projects that experimented with virtual diva Hatsune Miku, a singing computer program produced by Crypton Future Media.  The first such project, “Symphony Ihatov,” premiered in 2012 after being inspired by writer Kenji Miyazawa’s novels. It featured Miku singing along with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra.

Last year Tomita won the Japan Foundation Award and spoke about “Dr. Coppelius” during a related event. The project was dedicated to Tomita’s longtime friend, Hideo Itokawa, the father of Japanese rocketry, who dreamed of creating a hologram in the form of a ballet dancer.  With backup by Crypton Future Media, “Dr. Coppelius” was scheduled to be performed in Shibuya’s Bunkamura on Nov. 11 and 12 featuring a 3-D hologram of Hatsune Miku.  That seems very Star Wars-ian to me.

The first album I bought by Tomita was his Snowflakes Are Dancing.  I still love listening to it today.  Rather than it sounding artificial or sterile, it is warm, melodious, whimsical, and an enchanting recording.  It's Tomita's take on the classical tone poem composers of Ravel and Debussy.  Their classical work have a very magical aura about them.  From there Tomita went on to produce many other albums.  I also like his Bermuda Triangle album, which is full of mystery just like the legends surrounding that area of the world. His take on The Planets by Gustav Holst is also an interesting interpretation.


Also in 2015, Edgar Froese, the founding member of the German synthesizer band, Tangerine Dream passed away.  Tangerine Dream started up around 1967.  Actually before that timeframe Froese was in an earlier band that wasn't electronic, but more like a cover band typical in the day playing bars and whatnot.  While in the Catalonian resort town of Cadaques in North Eastern Spain,  Froese met and spent a lot of time with the great surrealist artist Salvador Dali.  Dali's imagination and revolutionary concepts in art had an impacting effect on Froese, instilling in him the determination to form a new and very different band, unfettered by the traditional pop music form.

The Beatles around this time had gone into a new psychedelic direction with Sergeant Peppers, Jimi Hendrix was also flying high, and music was changing in new and exciting ways.  Sometime a little bit after that time the first incarnation of Tangerine Dream was born with drummer Klaus Shultze and Conny Schnitzler, who played cello, flute and violin.  The got a recording contract, and in 1970, released their first debut album,  "Electronic Meditation".   When compared to some of Tangerine Dream's other compositions, Electronic Meditation sounds a bit cruder or rougher in its execution, but it lays the seeds for their future work, and you can definitely hear the surreal landscapes that they would eventually embellish.  

The band had many personnel changes throughout their career, this came with their second album "Alpha Centauri".   Christophe Franke replaced Shultze on drums, and Shultze went on to create his own synthesizer albums, which have their own merit.  Steve Shroyder replaced Schitzler, who stayed in the German music scene and recorded with other artist like Faust,  but Shroyder himself was soon replaced with Peter Baumann.  With this line-up, Froese/Franke/Bauman they pretty much became the core of the band for many years.

One of the first albums I heard by them was Phaedra and it blew me away.  I soon bought my own copy and every release by them after that.  I got so interested in electronic music that I eventually bought my own synthesizer, the Arp Odyssey.  I didn't know anything about synthesizers at the time, I just knew I wanted one.  Thankfully there was a book on the Arp Odyssey, which I still own, that told how to operate it and the concept and theory behind it and told how to sculpt music.

The guy that sold me the Arp also had the original paper patches, which you overlay on top of the switches and sliders to show you different positions to put them in to create different sounds from white noise, to running water, to sawtooth or squared wave patterns, and so forth.

If interested in reading a bit more about the principles of music synthesis you can look here.   Generally if I were to simplify it (and it has changed and updated itself with the more modern synths today), you have an oscillator or two.  You might think of this as a voice, but it creates the sound you want.  Once you establish the type sound you want: sine, square, sawtooth, you can then shape them further using filters and such.  It may sound complex, but once you mess around on one a bit, you get the feel of what one can do, and what each control does.  Knowing a little theory in piano can help as well, but not essential.  The early modular synths weren't even trigger by a keyboard, they were just dials and such.  It can be a lot of fun, and a creative way to express yourself.  At times it's like falling into a black hole and the barriers of time don't exist anymore because you can get lost in playing them, and it can be a fun divergence of escapism.

Well, I no longer have my Arp Odyssey.  It had stopped working as regrettably I had loaned it to a friend that smoked like a volcano.  All that smoke and tar is bad for electrical parts, which is why computers and servers, and such all try and maintain a fairly smoke free, clean environment.  So the smoke, I think, gummed up some of the sliders and such, plus to be honest, age had a lot to do with it as well.  Electronic stuff just doesn't last forever that's why you have to update your cell phones, computers, and whatever else you enjoy using.  There's a certain obsolescence built in to all of that.  But also with newer versions of things they'll contain updated features, so it's not all bad.

Anyway, I got a cheap Kindle Fire the other day.  I just got the $50. model.  It's pretty cool, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money until I could see if I'd use one.  I can see that you can use them pretty easily in your everyday life.  It's good for reading, music, gaming, and other things.  You can even surf the web a little.  It doesn't quite have the battery life that I'd like it to have, but I'm sure newer models will improve upon that as well.

What I found out though is you can download apps for them, and I picked up a really cool synthesizer app called Caustic 3.  Now whether you have an Android device or an Apple, they make this software app for both.  You can either put it on a phone, a tablet, and I've even put the Caustic 3 on my desktop.  The app for an Android device is free.  It is just the introductory app, but you can expand on that and get the full blown app for ten bucks. 

The app for a Apple device is $10.  I imagine it's the full blown model.   Here's another link as well. 

There are several synthesizers that you'll get with that app.  One of them called the Subsynth and it is similar to my old Arp, and I imagine similar to a Moog as well, depending on the model.  There's several tutorials over on Youtube that will show you how to operate the synths and has tricks and tips as well.  Here's a link to the tutorial on the Subsynth.

You'll see the Subsynth has two oscillators, one above at the top of the synth, Oscillator 1, and directly below it, is the Oscillator 2.   Those are your voices, and you can chose what sort of  wave form to start with, and then you can also mix or blend the two wave forms together.  At any rate, they tutorials will help you understand how everything works.

I ran across this today as well.  It's a 2016 Buyers Guide for real synthesizers.  If you really wanted to get into synth music, you could always purchase the actual instrument

I also ran into a web site that is called Igloo Magazine is an E-magazine on synthesizer music and has reviews and sound mixes and bytes by different musicians.  There is another web site devoted to synthesizers with news, videos and such called Synthtopia.