Looking back

So, were there any shows last year that were worth watching? Let’s see….

Laid-Back Camp — There’s hardly any story: high-school girls talk about camping and occasionally pitch tents. What makes it noteworthy is the solitary camper Rin, who is presented as a competent, personable, well-adjusted introvert who genuinely enjoys doing things on her own, and who is treated with respect by the other characters.

Cells at Work — The red blood cell focal character is overly ditzy, but otherwise this is probably the finest example of educational entertainment ever produced.1

We Rent Tsukumogami — It looks I’m going to have to sit still long enough to write a proper review of this underappreciated small-scale detective series, since apparently no one else has noticed it. Another time, maybe.

Nobunaga no Shinobi — The third season felt a little more forced and wasn’t quite as funny as the first, but it had its moments.

Hozuki no Reitetsu — I was about to cancel my Crunchyroll subscription, but at the last moment they added the second and third seasons of the series centered around Enma’s chief of staff, and I relented. The first season is still the freshest, but the newer episodes are nevertheless generally at least good and often very funny. Hozuki is probably the show from last year I enjoyed most. There are many more screencaps below the fold.

The above I can recommend. I also watched the rest of the much-praised Planet With, which I had earlier been unimpressed with. It turned out to be Gurren-Lagann-lite, watchable, but with preachiness instead of spiral energy. Cardcaptor Sakura: the Misdeal spent too much time being nice and too little telling a story. Possibly the eventual continuation might redeem it, but I’m not optimistic.

Continue reading “Looking back”

Girls, wolves, guns

Here is the true and proper retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

The Little Girl and the Wolf
by James Thurber

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

This story is presented as a service for those who watched the first episode of Grimms’ Notes: The Animation, an undistinguished recent offering from Crunchyroll.

Not quite English

From a news release that crossed my desk this morning:1

While at St. Christina the Astonishing, Mr. Redacted has become known for growing and developing the school’s professional staff and implementing a new community system to enhance the relationships among both students and faculty.

From Polysics’ “Plus Chicker:”

AKA! One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Eighty-nine!
It’s baby baby baby baby portable rock!
Ok! Something in my reality might have broke.
AKA! One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Eight-nine!

I’ll always do my thing.
I’ll always do my thing.

I lied too, ever since I saw you.

Which excerpt conveys more meaning?

In the lair of the mouse

Strelitzia reginae: a novelty in Kansas, ubiquitous in Anaheim

I spent most of the week before Christmas in California visiting family and seeing Disneyland. It was an excessively memorable experience, thanks to the blunders of United Airlines,1 the astonishing traffic in Los Angeles,2 Tracfone’s buggy website, and the 10,000 oblivious people wandering around Disneyland. It was worth it to see my sister and her family, but I’m not eager to repeat the experience.

Token Disneyland panorama. Right-click and open in a new window to see at full size.

If I had been ten years old, Disneyland would have been terrific. However, I’m several times older than that now, and roller coasters are less exciting, particularly when you have to make an appointment to ride or wait an hour and a half in line. I was more interested in the plants there, some of which are greenhouse exotics in Kansas but ordinary bedding plants in the subtropical climate of the southern California coast. These are mostly what I took pictures of.

Continue reading “In the lair of the mouse”

Little octopus

I found a little Christmas present in my indoor garden. The Prosthechea cochleata which I got last July opened its first flower on December 25. I would characterize it as “interesting” rather than “pretty,” but interesting it is. Despite its eccentric appearance, it’s in the same branch of the orchid family as Cattleya, the classic corsage orchid.

Epidendrum Miura Valley

The Epidendrum that I picked up back at the beginning of November is still blooming and looks like it will continue indefinitely. It’s also a member of the Cattleya alliance.

Continue reading “Little octopus”

Wednesday’s nose

One of the books I (re)read during my recent trip was The Man Who Was Thursday. The cover of the 1971 paperback edition, above, depicts a moment from chapter X. Those who’ve read the book might amuse themselves by seeing how many errors they can spot.

Incidentally, Chesterton’s novel is possibly the most realistic spy novel ever published:

Thirty years ago, a British newspaper took an unscientific survey of current and former intelligence agents, asking them which fictional work best captured the realities of their profession. Would it be John Le Carré, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum? To the amazement of most readers, the book that won easily was G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908….

… Soon, even police agencies themselves had no idea whether a given attack was the work of real terrorists, or of agents and provocateurs notionally working for the regime. In this wilderness of mirrors, the only certain facts were provocation and deception. “Was anyone wearing a mask? Was anyone anything?” However fantastic The Man Who Was Thursday might appear, it was describing the stark realities of counter-subversion, with all their moral ambiguities. And that was what gave the book its appeal to latter day spooks.

The dumping of the links

Let’s get rid of links, some of them old and starting to smell, beginning with a couple of quotes for a windy Thursday:

Charles G. Hill:

The more I see of what passes for democracy these days, the more ardently I embrace monarchism.

R.R. Reno:

Political honesty means telling the voters who you are and what you promise to do—and then governing as that person and in accord with those promises. By this measure, Trump is the most honest political figure of his generation.

*****

Quiz time: school or prison?

School or prison?
Building A
School or prison?
Building B

The answers, and some comments on education, are here.

*****

Shamus Young:

… there’s a game everyone is playing today and it really is bad for you. Having played this game for eight years I can tell you first-hand that it really does impact the way people behave and perceive each other. And I’m not talking about in-game behavior, here. I’m talking about real, lasting consequences in the real world. I’m talking about a game that can actually change the way you see other human beings, and how you treat them. It’s a game that’s genuinely harmful and continues to impact your thoughts and behavior, even after you stop playing it.

*****

Paradoxes of counting numbers: Chicago mathematics, or “a clown car of felonies.”

(Via I don’t know, but…)

*****

Revolution for the hell of it: Gary Saul Morson on 19th-century Russian nihilism:

Russia was also the first country where young men and women, asked to name their intended careers, might well say “terrorist.” Beginning in the 1870s, terrorism became an honored, if dangerous, profession. It was often a family business employing brothers and sisters generation after generation. Historians sometimes trace modern terrorism to the Carbonari of early-19th-century Italy, but it was Russia that gave it unprecedented importance. You cannot relate the history of czarist Russia in its last half-century without the history of terrorism. As we now associate terrorism with radical Islam, Europeans then associated it with “Russian nihilism.” By the early 20th century, no profession, except literature, enjoyed more prestige among well-educated Russians.1

(The Weekly Standard, where this article appears, may not be around much longer. If Morson’s piece becomes unavailable there, you can read substantial excerpts at Isegoria in a series of posts beginning here. Morson was also responsible for And Quiet Flows the Vodka.)

*****

Phyllis McGinley in 1953:

The Old Feminist

Snugly upon the equal height,
enthroned at last where she belongs,
She takes no pleasure in her Rights
who so enjoyed her Wrongs!

*****

The notion that anthropomorphized a thousand bales of straw: a defense of “Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.” (It’s an old post, but I only recently discovered it.)

Four years ago, I sat across a conference table from an assistant dean with a Ph.D in the humanities who, with no evident trace of self-loathing, asked me to write bullet points summarizing the “workplace relevance” of medieval literature. (That day I confirmed that the soul really does exist, because I felt mine howling to leave my body.)

*****

Puzzle: what does this sequence represent? The answer, with notes on “boundary violations,” is here.

Coming soon to a sky near you

46P/Wirtanen on November 26. (Photo by Gerald Rhemann)

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be cruising by our planet later this month:

Ranked in terms of distance from Earth, this will be the 20th closest approach of a comet dating as far back as the ninth century A.D., and the tenth closest approach since 1950. The minimum distance between 46P and the Earth (perigee) will be 11,586,350 kilometers (7,199,427 miles), occurring December 16, 2018, at 13:06 Universal Time, a little less than four days after the comet passes its minimum distance from the Sun of 187 million kilometers (98.1 million miles).

Don’t expect a thrilling show. Despite its close approach, this one will probably not be another Hale-Bopp. It may reach 3rd magnitude, but even so it will likely be difficult to see if conditions aren’t excellent.1 And if you do find it, it probably won’t look like the popular image of a comet with a bright nucleus and tail, but instead will be a circular cloud in the sky a little brighter toward the center. The moon will be bright then, too, which won’t help.

Update: a couple more pictures of the comet, here and here.

More noises

Here’s another batch of quickie tune arrangements using the Arturia V Collection synths. As before, every sound in each is made with the named synthesizer emulation, though there may be some occasional manipulation with equalization, compression and delay. “Captain Sudley” is a Carolan tune; the others are traditional.

“The Dashing White Sergeant,” Matrix 12

“Captain Sudley,” Solina

“Tulloch Castle,” Fairlight CMI

“Lai,” ARP 2600

Bonus: “Captain Sudley” on the B3 emulation.

Trivia: the ARP 2600 was the voice of R2-D2.

Along with the earlier batch, I’ve now made inexpert use of half of the Arturia collection. With a few exceptions, the remaining keyboards are of less interest to me. While I can always use a good, accurate grand piano, electric pianos have never appealed to me, and transistor organs sound cheap.

Working with these new toys confirmed a couple of observations.

1. After a while, all subtractive synths start to sound the same. Someone with a good ear might be able to tell a hardware ARP from a Moog on a recording, but once you’re using computer emulations, with all the electronic and mechanical quirks cleaned up, one sawtooth wave sounds much like another.

2. The more novel the sound, the harder it is to use. In a piece with many voices, the plainest patches work best. The Buchla Easel is an amazing noisemaker, but I doubt that I’ll ever use it much.

Funny noises

I spent much of the weekend playing with my new toys, emulations of “classic” synths in Arturia’s V Collection. Some of them are very complicated and will take a while to figure out. To get an idea of what each is like, I’ve been assembling quick arrangements of various tunes from my big page of MIDI files. Here are some of the results. Every sound in each is from the named synth (with one exception, as noted)

“Vulpita,” CS-80

“The Scolding Wives of Abertarff,” Buchla Easel (and an instance of Arturia’s Piano)

“Oaken Leaves,” Yamaha DX7

“Bakramin,” Synclavier

Generic bourrée, Moog Modular

High culture for a Sunday afternoon

A bit of ancient Marxist humor:

This was a skit from the 1924 I’ll Say She Is, re-enacted in 1931 when moving pictures finally had sound.

A bit of musical history:

Jean-Jaques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley recorded what was probably the first electronic music intended for popular audiences. Their first album featured Perrey’s Ondioline, a forerunner of the Moogs and Arps to come, plus tape loops with funny noises. In the musical demonstration during the second half of the video, note how Perrey wiggles the keyboard side to side to obtain a vibrato.

I stumbled across the Perrey video while looking for the episode of To Tell the Truth in which the panelists try to identify the real Robert Moog.1 Perrey and Kingsley used Moog’s modular synthesizer on the second album, over a year before Switched-on Bach. The music from the two Perrey-Kingsley albums is collected here. It may be cheesy, but it’s cheese of high quality. If you’ve been to Disneyland, you may have heard one of their tunes.

The formidable jazz pianist Dick Hyman was another early user of the Moog. “The Minotaur” got some airplay on top-forty radio in 1969, but the flip side was more fun:

Pop quiz: Who said this about what?

Primitive music with all modern conveniences

Continue reading “High culture for a Sunday afternoon”

18 notes per second, with a grin

What is the greatest guitar album ever recorded?1 Surfing with the Alien? Performing this week … Live at Ronnie Scott’s? The Return of the Hellecasters? Something by Danny Gatton, or Roy Buchanan?

How about The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark? Clark may have had the persona of a hayseed clown, but he could play guitar. Here’s a sample:

It’s not as easy as it looks. If you have any interest in guitar music, you need Roy Clark in your library.

Clark died yesterday at the age of 85. Wonderduck has more.

Odds and ends

VCV Rack

Back in ancient times, synthesizers such as those played by W.W. Carlos and Keith Emerson were assembled from various single-purpose modules, linked together by a multitude of short cables. To change the sound, the musician rearranged the cables and fiddled with the controls on the modules. It was laborious, but with perseverance you could make something like Switched-on Bach or Tarkus. Eventually these modular monsters were replaced by compact synths with fixed architectures, which were easier to program and to transport. Later ones added polyphony and memory for patches, so the musician could play chords and recreate sounds instantly.

Although many of the later synths were immensely useful and desirable, none ever sounded quite like their forebears. Emerson’s modular Moog in particular was legendary. During the past 20 years or so, there’s been increasing interest in modular systems. Notably, the Doepfer “Eurorack” format has become prevalent in certain parts of the electronic music world. A musician can buy whatever modules he wants from a variety of manufacturers and combine them as he pleases. Unfortunately, purchasing modules gets expensive.

However, if you have a reasonably powerful computer, you can run the VCV Rack, a virtual Eurorack. The basic rack, including all you need to make funny noises, is free, and there are many more modules you can download to play with once you get the hang of it, most of which are also free. It’s available here.

I spent several recent lunch hours fiddling with the VCV Rack, and a couple of things quickly became apparent. First, it’s not easy to get an interesting sound out of it. The early synthesists had to work hard to make their music sound good.

Second, videos are the worst way to teach anything. There’s very little text documentation for the rack, so I sat through a number of videos explaining the basics. Good grief, they’re such a waste of time. In principle, videos should be perfect for this job — you can see the connections being made and hear the sounds that result. In practice, you get a guy rambling for half an hour trying to explain something that could have easily been summarized in three minutes. Advice to anyone making an instructional video: before you plug in your microphone, make a detailed written outline of what you want to cover. Better yet, write out what you want to say and skip the video entirely.

*****

Charles G. Hill brings tidings from Japan of a man who “married” a holographic representation of the vocal synthesizer “Hatsune Miku.” Hill linked to a video featuring Miku’s voice which is apparently extremely popular but which doesn’t show what the software is capable of. Here are a couple that better illustrate how a pathetic dweeb could become fixated on the computer-generated image of an anime-style girl: Miku in concert; Miku on a desktop.

Vocal synthesizers, of which Vocaloids are the most successful, occasionally come in handy for those of us with lousy voices. I’ve made use of Miku myself. Others include Plogue’s Alter/Ego and Chipspeech, and Wolfgang Palm’s Phonem.

*****

Francis W. Porretto wonders if anyone remembers Vaughn Meader and David Frye now that their targets are gone. The First Family was before my time, but I do remember hearing one particular skit by Frye frequently at the left end of the FM dial.

*****

It’s been scientifically established that nearly any pop song can be improved by remaking it as a polka or surf tune. In a similar vein, J Greely recently wished that the cast of Dr. Who had turned a recent episode into a Bollywood musical. I haven’t seen that episode so I can’t say for certain, but I expect that would indeed have been an improvement. I suspect, in fact, that most television shows would benefit from being transformed into Bollywood musicals. (Just wondering: are there any Bollywood musical production numbers featuring surf guitar?)

*****

This is terribly unfair, I know, but Cardinal DiNardo in the picture above looks very much like how I visualize Wormtongue when I read The Lord of the Rings.

Checkmate, stalemate, forfeit

Tomorrow, for the first time in 46 years, an American, Fabiano Caruana, will challenge the world chess champion for the title. The last time this happened, it was major news. This time, though, apparently no one much cares. I searched the online edition of the Wichita newspaper today to see if there has been any mention of Caruana. This is what I found:

These don’t seem to have much to do with chess.

Out of curiosity, I did a search for “chess.” Here are the first few results:

So the Wichita Eagle squanders thousands of column inches every year on tedious ball games and incredible quantities of tripe, drivel and sanctimonious BS, but it can’t be bothered to spare a few inches for chess unless there’s a political angle to exploit.

You can follow the games live here for $20. There will also be coverage here.

Red velvet

Dendrobium Velvet Melody

I took too many pictures at the weekend’s orchid show, as usual. I’m about halfway done editing the photos. You can see the first few batches here. I should get the rest done within a day or two or three. (Update: they’re done.)

Right-click and open this panorama in a new window for an overview of the show.