• Did you know we were making oxygen on Mars?

    Until reading this piece in The Atlantic, I was not aware of the fact that the Mars Perseverance rover has a device onboard, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment—MOXIE, that has been generating oxygen on the red planet.

    The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment—MOXIE. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Millions of miles away on Mars, in a barren crater just north of the equator, a rover is wandering around, carrying a gold-coated gadget the size of a toaster. The machine inhales the Martian air and strips away contaminants. It splits the atmospheric gas into constituent parts, takes what it needs, and then reassembles that blend to create something that is in very short supply on Mars: oxygen. Real, breathable oxygen, the kind you took in as you read these sentences.

    After a bit of analysis, the machine puffs out the oxygen, harmlessly releasing the molecules into the Martian environment. The act makes this very sophisticated toaster, situated in the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover, the closest thing to a small tree on Mars.

    Read the rest here [limited free access and pay wall]

  • Ever feel that reality itself is trolling us?

    In a piece for Post-Colonial Politics, cultural critic Mark Dery explores our now seemingly never-ending collective American horror story and what it's like to "live in a nation permanently on edge, a nation whose nervous system has been short-circuited by post-traumatic stress, a nation that knows it will be retraumatized tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and maybe for every tomorrow to come by the farcical awfulness of just about everything."

    The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas is a case in point. The mindless slaughter of 19 children and two adults by yet another mass shooter is the horror; the nauseatingly farcical part is the Groundhog Day repetition of such carnage—268 such incidents, to date, in 2022 alone, depending on how one defines "mass shooting," 17 of them since the bloodbath in Texas. Their mind-reeling frequency, and the cognitive dissonance induced by having to feel shocked/not shocked, sick with fury/benumbed by cynicism all at once, all over again, all the time, gives us that trapped-in-the-funhouse-hall-of-mirrors feeling. The rote "thoughts and prayers" from Republican pols puppeteered by Wayne LaPierre's withered claw up their asses adds to the air of ghastly unreality. So does the headshaking about "partisan rancor" by "news analysts" whose scrupulous both-sides-ism requires them to feign amnesia about the GOP's craven fealty to the NRA and its refusal, for years, to pass even the most commonsense gun-control legislation. 

    What makes us feel as if reality itself is trolling us is learning that heavily armed officers forbore to rush the gunman, for an hour,while the slaughter of the innocents proceeded apace inside the school because "they could've been shot."

    And that state troopers refused to act when distraught parents begged them to save their children but were all action when those same parents attempted to storm the school, pepper-spraying, tasing, handcuffing them.

    Read the rest here.

    Image: Big Brother, Watching You, in "1984" (1984, directed by Michael Radford)

  • Making music out of human speech

    I've written about the work of artist and composer, Noah Wall, on Boing Boing before (here and here). In his latest project, Speech Patterns, Noah derives music from the rhythm, tone, and timbre of the human voice using source material including the voices of Octavia Butler, Michel Foucault, a cattle auctioneer, people speaking in tongues, and ASMR.

    Each limited edition LP and cassette features hand-stamped cover art using shapes derived from Speech Patterns notation.

    From the liner notes:

    Starting with a phone machine message left by the late Michael Evans, Noah took a bunch of YouTube videos of conversations and speeches, put the audio through Melodyne (an autotune app) and then saved the results as a MIDI document. From there he spread the data out to various MIDI instruments to play back the pitch conversions of the sourced talk. The material is stretched out, looped, and manipulated in various ways to achieve a true polyphony that belies its monophonic origins. Even more than musique concrete, the results seem utterly divorced from their original source, as here another layer of representation is eliminated by rubbing out the content of the speeches, as opposed to using a sound recognizable as a train, for instance, or anything whose sound only signifies the object itself rather than additionally conveying a linguistic meaning. Sometimes they're purposely contrary to their source material, as in the ominous, bass-heavy "ASMR," a marked contrast to the intentionally soothing, semi-whispered female voice it's taken from. The music is startlingly melodic, given its backstory, but Noah's old one-man band Jukeboxer demonstrated his capabilities as a tunesmith; Speech Patterns is the logical product of the same mind behind the Jukeboxer songs as well as the subversive masterstroke of making anagrams of every Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt Oblique Strategy card (Grotesque Tables II). The music's polyrhythms, derived from the cadences of the speakers' phrasing, indicate a parallel between polyrhythm and dialogue, as well as recalling Conlon Nancarrow's dizzying Studies for Player Piano and Frank Zappa's "While You Were Art II" (a Synclavier playback of a transcription of one his guitar solos).

    Learn more.

    Images: Promo images from Noah Wall.

  • "All the Young Dudes" turns 50

    The dudes are not so young anymore. This year, "All the Young Dudes," the warhorse glam rock anthem penned by Bowie and made a hit by Mott the Hoople, turned 50. Is it a song about youthful disaffection and suicide? The coming apocalypse first foretold in Bowie's "Five Years"? Glam and gay coming-out pride? Yes. It's art. It's about whatever you want it to be about. The perennial truth is that it simply rocks. It rocked then. It rocks now.

    As someone who was there when this Good News was first delivered, I can still vividly remember the personal and cultural power that it and other glam anthems like "Moonage Daydream" and "Ziggy Stardust" engendered. These were anthems for "aliens" of all stripes, for all "others." And, 50 years later, we're still carrying the news.

    Here's Ian Hunter doing an acoustic version on The Howard Stern Show in 2020:

    And as you might imagine, "Dudes" has been covered by a lot of very different artists:

    Thumbnail: Columbia Records trade ad, Public Domain.

  • Cocaine and ketamine dealers in the UK are giving discounts in honor of the Queen's passing

    According to a piece on Vice, drug dealers in the UK are feeling the loss of her Majesty and are passing the condolences (and the savings) on to their customers.

    Drug dealers are marking Queen Elizabeth II's death by messaging customers with their condolences alongside specially discounted products including cocaine, weed and ketamine. 

    In a screenshot attached to a viral tweet, one seller sent out a mail shot text 13 minutes after the Queen's death at the age of 96 was announced on Thursday with a list of drugs and prices, including an ounce of weed for £150 and £30 grams of ketamine. Then they told their customers they were offering "a queen's dead discount on everything ask me for details".

    Read the rest here.

  • Trump having trouble finding quality lawyers to represent him

    On Twitter, MeidasTouch shared this perfect video from PoliticsGirl. In it, she asks a simple question: If all the things Trump's always claiming about stolen elections, witch hunts, political paybacks, violations of privacy were true, powerful, effective conservative law firms (not has-beens, hacks, and TV lawyers) would be lining up to represent an former president. But they aren't. "I think that tells you everything you need to know."

  • Funny Late Show spoof ad for "Dr. Oz's OKCousin" family dating app

    The John Fetterman campaign continues to reap the rich rewards of the seemingly endless absurdity of Dr. Mehmet Oz's run for the US Senate from Pennsylvania.

    After creepy, bizarre comments from Dr. Oz surfaced from a 2014 interview where he claims that incest with second cousins is "not a big problem," The Late Show with Stephen Colbert put together this funny ad announcing a new dating app, Dr. Oz's OKCousin.

    The Fetterman campaign was quick to seize on it:

  • Creating an AI-generated comic book in Midjourney

    I really enjoyed watching filmmaker Elvis Deane talk about his experience in creating a comic book using the Midjourney AI art program. I love some of the analogies he uses—that working with a current AI is kind of like trying to communicate with your dog, or like having an infinite number of monkey artists who aren't giving you exactly what you want, but sort of.

    In the end, he likens the process to improv theater where you have to riff off of where your scene-partner is taking things. He discusses the limitations of the current technology, copyright questions, and that fact that, at least now, you can't really get predictable results. To do any kind of linear, sequential storytelling like a comic book, there's a lot of working around the program's eccentricities and blind spots.

    But, that said, in the end, Deane created a comic that he's really happy with and has made available online. He plans on doing future installments of it.

    One great tip he shares for getting semi-consistent-looking characters: Use the names of actors or other well-known people in your prompts.

    Images: Grabs from Elvis Deane's Goats #1.

  • The time that the Queen turned down a birthday concert from Paul McCartney to watch Twin Peaks

    In this excerpt from Secrets from Another Place, a Twin Peaks DVD collection, series Composer Angelo Badalamenti recounts a story he allegedly heard from Paul McCartney.

    Queen Elizabeth II's staff organized a private concert with Sir Paul for the Queen's birthday. When Paul showed up, he was told by her Majesty that she couldn't listen to him play because it was nearly 8pm and Twin Peaks was about to start.

    The story sounds a little fishy, at least in Badalamenti's telling (I wonder if Paul has ever been asked) and commenters have pointed out things like Twin Peaks was broadcast in the UK at 9pm, not 8. And wouldn't her staff have known her TV viewing times? But maybe at least the kernel of the tale is true.

  • William Gibson's sci-fi thriller, The Peripheral, coming to Amazon Prime

    The teaser-trailer dropped yesterday for The Peripheral, the latest sci-fi series from Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (Westworld), and adapted from William Gibson's 2014 sci-fi mystery thrilled of the same name.

    The Peripheral centers on Flynne Fisher, a woman trying to hold together the pieces of her broken family in a forgotten corner of tomorrow's America. Flynne is smart, ambitious, and doomed. She has no future. Until the future comes calling for her. The Peripheral is master storyteller William Gibson's dazzling, hallucinatory glimpse into the fate of mankind — and what lies beyond.

    Flynne Fisher lives in the rural American South, working at the local 3D printing shop, while earning much needed extra money playing VR games for rich people. One night she dons a headset and finds herself in futuristic London—a sleek and mysterious world, alluringly different from her own hardscrabble existence.

    But this isn't like any game she's ever played before: Flynne begins to realize it isn't virtual reality… it's real. Someone in London, seventy years in the future, has found a way to open a door to Flynne's world. And as utterly beguiling as London is… it's also dangerous. As Flynne searches to discover who has connected their worlds, and for what purpose, her presence here sets dangerous forces into motion…forces intent on destroying Flynne and her family in her own world.

    The series stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Flynne Fisher. The first 8-episode season will premier on Amazon Prime on Oct. 23.

    Thumbnail: Screengrab of teaser-trailer, The Peripheral

  • Doomsday glacier "hanging on by its fingernails" scientist says

    Good news, everyone. According to Rob Larter, marine geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey, Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, nicknamed the "Doomsday" glacier because of its potential catastrophic impact on global sea levels, is experiencing "rapid retreat."

    "We should expect to see big changes over small timescales in the future—even from one year to the next—once the glacier retreats beyond a shallow ridge in its bed," said Larter in a press release about the study.

    Larter and his colleagues came to this frightening conclusion after extensively mapping the seafloor in front of the glacier, which is bigger than Florida, using a robotic vehicle. The results revealed a pattern of ground "rib" formations buried about half a mile beneath the ocean, each of which was etched out by interactions of the ice and ocean. 

    Using this geological record, the team was able to identify a period sometime in the past 200 years when Thwaites Glacier lost touch with a ridge in the seabed that was stabilizing it, causing it to recede twice as fast as the rate revealed by modern satellite observations. During these periods, the icy landscape retreated at a rate of more than 2.1 kilometers per year (1.3 miles) per year.

    Read the rest here.

    [Via Mondo 2000]

    Thumbnail: Thwaites Glacier, NASA

  • The history of the world according to cats

    The title of this charming little animation might be a bit of an overstatement, but its point, that cats are awesome, is always worth making. You've got to love any cat video that opens with the Terry Pratchett quote: "In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."

    Bonus track:

    Thumbnail: YouTube screengrab.

  • An ear-opening new special edition of The Beatles masterpiece, Revolver, is coming next month

    Like many sentient beings, The Beatles' Revolver is one of my all-time favorite records. It is a timeless piece of art as it is. But, at the end of October, we will get the chance to hear the record in a whole new way and to hear versions of tracks we haven't heard before.

    The new collection will include a stereo mix of the record sourced directly from the original four-track masters. This special edition was put together using the de-mixing technology developed by Peter Jackson for his Get Back project.

    From Rolling Stone:

    It's the one where the lads set out to remake themselves from scratch, trying psychedelia, chamber music, Indian raga, Memphis soul. As Giles Martin says, "Revolver is an album where you could listen to each song and go, 'Oh, this is the direction they're going to go in next.' And be wrong every single time. The Beatles are all in the same zone, coming of age. But it's four individual members, with four eclectic styles, all willing to surf the same wave. And that's what this album's about. It's about that 'What have you got? How crazy is it? Well, I can out-crazy you.'"

    This Revolver is full of fresh surprises. For one thing, you wouldn't expect one of the deepest emotional revelations to be "Yellow Submarine." The world thinks of this as the kiddie song they dashed off for Ringo. But John's home demo shows how it began as a melancholy acoustic ballad, evoking Plastic Ono Band. The idea that John's sad confession got reworked into Ringo belting the world's favorite kiddie singalong — that's the whole Revolver journey right there. Who else could take a simple song idea through so many evolutions, only for it to end up so perfectly right? Only the Beatles. 

    ***

    The Special Edition has 63 tracks in all, with the original album in stereo, mono, on Dolby Atmos, plus session outtakes, on five CDs, four vinyl LPs, and a seven-inch EP of the "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" EP, both sides of the standalone single cut during Revolver. There's also a 100-page hardbound book of photos and essays by McCartney ("all in all, not a bad album"), Giles Martin, cover artist Klaus Voormann, hip-hop legend Questlove, and historian Kevin Howlett. The Standard Edition has the original 14-track album on CD, vinyl, and digital. 

    Read the rest here.

    Thumbnail: Inset of Revolver album art.

  • A look inside the life and home of a NYC tunnel-dweller

    In this touching and sad Erik Swanson video, he befriends a man, Carlos, who lives in a former sewer tunnel below New York City. As Carlos begins to trust Erik, he lets him see his home (and help with some computer problems). That's right, in Carlos' tunnel, he has electricity, a fridge, a microwave, and a PC, all scrounged from the trash. For food, he dumpster dives at grocery stores.

    At the end of the video, Erik reveals that Carlos was "evicted" from his sewer tunnel home by the cops and the tunnel sealed. He's now back out on the streets and in shelters (which he describes as "wicked").

    He seemed so proud of the home he'd built and the resourcefulness with which he'd built it. Heartbreaking to think that was all taken away from him.

    Thumbnail: Screengrab from video.

  • Understanding staging and blocking in films

    For some, understanding the mechanics of filmmaking completely takes them out of the immersion. For others, it deepens it. I am definitely of the latter camp, so I appreciated this little tutorial on StudioBinder about staging and blocking.

    To show how such a dance between the actors and the camera adds to a film's overall impact, they break down scenes from Spielberg's Minority Report, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and Inarritu's Birdman.

    Bonus track:

    Thumbnail image: Image from trailer of A Clockwork Orange (1971), Public Domain.

  • Making a gorgeous paper model of Jack Skellington's house from The Nightmare Before Christmas

    "This is Halloween, this is Halloween. Halloween! Halloween!"

    In this MechanicalFiend video, Devon painstakingly attempts to recreate Jack Skellington's house from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. She does a seriously impressive job using little more than different grades of a paper and craft foam. There are lots of great modeling tips in this video, too.