Saturday, July 31, 2010

beauty and the beast, via cocteau

On my nightstand: Re-reading Jean Cocteau's diary of the arduous making of his seminal, luminous film, Beauty and the Beast.
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Above is a pencil sketch I did, while in college, of the artist and director.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

thoughts and prayers for healing

Some people I care about are having health problems, and I want to extend my thoughts and prayers for their recovery.
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hercule poirot

Sunday, July 25, 2010

warehouse 13 becoming unwatchable

It pains me to say this, but Warehouse 13 is a great idea shooting itself in the foot before my eyes. It's probably been that way for a while now, but in my dedication to the concept and optimistic outlook, I've somewhat blindly hung in there, cheering it on.

It had such promise-- such a cool premise, such artsy potential with all the steampunk-ish gadgetry, such limitless situations. So what's happening here?

The problem seems to be both in the writing and the directing. Mya and Pete become more annoying with each episode, trying way too hard to be cute. And with their choices in tough situations, who could, even with artistic license, believe either one of them was a secret service agent these days?

The overblown soap-opera character conflicts rampant amongst the entire ensemble seem increasingly contrived. More and more, these supposedly bright people are stomping and pouting like eight year olds. Between the forced humor, immature behavior, and weak dialog, recent episodes leave me feeling more embarassed than anything else.

Sure, Warehouse 13 was never was meant to survive tough scrutiny and be realistic or believable. But for us to willingly suspend our disbelief, they need to meet us halfway. The first episodes had our attention with some compelling, maybe even dazzling notions. And with all that atmosphere, it was easy to go along for the ride. But that was then.

We want to love Warehouse 13, but things are looking grim. And we can't wait forever.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

a moon asleep in summer trees

Here is my Moon Landing Wayback Machine link. Happy moon landing anniversary, one and all. I am truly blessed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

unchanged

Stone walkway in Oakland hills, built 1912.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

long summer days


This is an unretouched photo of the view east from my balcony. Pines, cottonwoods, and willow trees dot the landscape, and the green grass of the nine-hole golf course flanks Carmel Creek.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

thank you, ray bradbury

Hello, friends.

The next person I will be inducting into the Dreamland Literary and Cinematic Society will be Mr. Ray Bradbury.

A thank you letter will explain my selection.

Regards,

b

Monday, July 12, 2010

world of 'worlds' revisited

...and now that I'm actually "there" again, it's all coming back to me. What a strange, strange virtual world Worlds is. It was one of the first virtual places I ever visited, and I was surprised to find out it's still there. I feel like a time-traveller.

The setup has scarcely changed, except that I hadn't remembered just how unbelievably giantpixel super-clunky funky-stiff and crazy of a place it is. I first visited Worlds several years ago; since then I've found my way to Second Life*, a world that sets such a standard of realism and user power (not to mention, sheer size) that nothing else comes even remotely close. The contrast is almost ludicrous.

But back to the world of Worlds. This realm is organized into, well... worlds, as in, a little cartoon image of a cluster of orbs, and then you click on where you want to go. To call each area a world is a bit grandiose, as each amounts to little more than a series of interlocking rooms or a few plots of cartoon terrain. Each world has to be loaded onto your computer separately. Some of the options are a clue as to when the whole thing sort of fell out of interest: Hanson World, for instance (remember those guys?), and an old sign in the cocktail lounge home area that Worlds.com Supports Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Just now, during my years-later revisit, I was able to find my way to a garden, a boxlike affair with zagged chunks of computer rendering the size of toasters arranged into hedges and walls of repeating flowers. I remember it differently.

The funny thing is, for all it's wooden low-rez early VR crude rendering, it still somehow manages to feel like you're somewhere. You feel like you're somebody, too, even though when you first show up they make you walk around as a virtual penguin. It continues to be remarkable to me how little nudging we need to accept an artificial environment, and lock into it.

Oddly enough, all this low-tech rendering and wooden perambulation results in a kind of retro charm, and it forms a new layer of awareness over my decidedly surreal memories from years ago. I'd love to figure out how to get some screen shots because this place just can't be explained.

Fascinating.

*By conscious choice, I am not in Second Life with the time-eating frequency of when I first wandered into it three years ago. But readers are welcome, while there, to say hello to an avatar named Reverielarke Wirtanen.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

early virtuality, remembered

An unknown number of years ago, before I heard about Second Life and found my way there, I paid a few late-night visits to a couple of the most curious early virtual worlds.

The first so-called virtual world I ever visited was called Dreamland Park*, which I chose from the handful available at the time because the name was similar to what I called my lucid dream and media group (now the name of this blog).

Dreamland Park was a funny little place, occupied mostly by people whose text chat was mostly conducted in German. Earnest and eager, I stopped by for several days in a row, keeping my English confined to a worry-free present tense, and tossing in a few German words from a dictionary now and then, just to show I had the right spirit.

This situation, as you might imagine, had its limitations, this funny little Euro chat room. If there was more to it that what I saw, which is entirely possible, I never got there. The highlight occurred one day when someone stood in front of me-- their avatar, that is-- and made a few comical dance moves while staring out from my monitor: my first avatar interaction, and it made me laugh out loud for real. The people there, I came to understand both directly and implicitly, were a cheerful assortment of youngish geeks. The world itself seemed not a great deal more than some gray terrain, and the avatars were a bit limited in movement and expression. I have a dim memory of running up and down some jagged, low-resolution bluffs. For all of its shortcomings, I was very excited to be somewhere, in there... because that's what it felt like. It was a start. The possibilities!

And then I stumbled into another world, one a bit more fully realized, called Worlds. At least, this is the name I recall now, years later. Here, you could run around with an avatar that had a bit more to it, although with little relationship to who you were in real life; at least it seemed that way to me. You could be something decidedly non-human, but I was more comfortable as a female human. Learning to move it around in a virtual space was a startlingly powerful experience.

There was one big room that always seemed like a kind of cocktail party, with a kind of American Southwest view out the long window. And I recall a bunch of hallways that looked like you were on a spaceship. Like a dream, there was one wing where you could choose avatars, a long hallway with a series of figures on display to the left and right like a kind of museum, but I could never find it again- much to my frustration. There was a building kind of like Animal House, and I felt a kind of mild panic there with the antics going on, so I left immediately.

One night, very late, a kind person with a female avatar took me to a beautiful garden, and told me how I could return there; "she" might have been someone trying to promote membership (which I could never bring myself to do), and I don't think I ever went back. But I still remember it as an act of genuine helpfulness early in my virtual history.

In another part of this odd place, you could find a ladies room, and a mirror there, and gaze into it, disconcerted by seeing something foreign staring back at you. My avatar somehow ended up as a large, strong-looking brunette woman with a suggestive sway to her hips, and a long black dress; I accepted this because didn't want to be a little blue orb or a cartoon cowboy. I did what I could.

Now and then I still have dreams about this surreal twilight world of pixels and crude backdrops, usually right after I fall asleep on a night when I am both tired and wired.

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*I've provided a link to a page that has some screen shots of the old Dreamland Park, just as I remember it, about halfway down the page. The glamorous avatar shown is far more sophisticated than anything I encountered there. At any rate, if this place still runs, I can't seem to find how to get there.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

timescape


Timescape, by Gregory Benford. It's a small world, after all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

the man who was thursday

Why haven't I read G.K. Chesterton until now? Last night I began reading The Man who was Thursday, and it is superb in every way. The book has been described as a philosophical metaphysical thriller.

So far, I love everything about it.

More later

Sunday, July 4, 2010

independence

John Adams 1735- 1826

His final toast to the Fourth of July was "Independence Forever!"

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

period design in context

In design for any given period, nothing stands alone, and all aspects of culture resonate with the same set of aesthetics. Clothing, product design, architecture, typestyles, hairstyles, makeup, music, spoken and written word, even the way people move: all are of their time.

On so many people's lips lately is the show, Mad Men. Finally I gave in and watched a few episodes. To me, as a show-- that is to say, as an experience-- it is like an accident I'm compelled to look at. Nobody is sympathetic, nobody is happy, and it's hard to watch when everyone seems doomed by all the alcohol and smoking. But what the show does understand is that you don't just dress people in so many vintage clothes or do a few cartoonish period sets. Everything in the room must visually resonate with the time period, and this show, for the most part, does an eerily good job of just that (although in a highly stylized manner).

With this in the back of my mind, I noted this passage as I re-read Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film" from early in their shoot:

The Paquin people must have used what materials they could find [for this black and white film] without worrying about color. In spite of that, this fortuitous contrast of colors is dazzling and probably more exciting than if it had been deliberately chosen. As soon as Mila, Nane, Jeannot, Michel and Josette are dressed, made up and bewigged, and wander about the garden, the farm, stone-work, windows and doors come to life. In our modern clothes we all look like intruders, ridiculous ghosts.