Archive

Archive for December, 2010

Techyum Loves The Derp Memebase

December 30th, 2010 3 comments

It’s okay if you don’t know what this means. Derp is a feeling, a state of mind. It also stands for Drug Effectiveness Review Project (mmm, spoonful of drugs), which makes total sense. We at Techderp are here to help: read the definition below and then prepare to have your nostrils become pressurized twin beverage cannons when you go visit The Derp Memebase. Ready, aim…

1. The word that describes a particularly retarded face.

2. “Derp is an expression sometimes used online to signify stupidity, much like the earlier forms of “duh” and “dur.” One of the first recorded instances of the term “derp” comes from a short-lived South Park character, Mr. Derp.

Definition #2 is from Know Your Meme, which has this great derp page and is hard at derp researching and evaluating herpa derpiness.

Thanks, Ms. Naughty!

Detective Simon Dinsdale Takes up His Father’s Quest at Loch Ness

December 30th, 2010 1 comment

Illustration from an edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Tim Dinsdale, an Indian-born Royal Air Force engineer, is one of the most famous researchers into the monster reputedly lurking in Loch Ness in the Scottish highlands. His son, Simon Dinsdale, will be continuing his father’s research, according to an article on Paranormal Utopia.

According to the article, the younger Dinsdale is now a retired police detective, says he’s seen the monster twice. However, he believes that hard evidence is needed to back up his claims.

Sadly, Paranormal Utopia doesn’t reference its source, and has no direct quotes from Dinsdale; I could find neither Simon Dinsdale nor the Dinsdale family online, and the only news hit I get is to an Indian source that times out. Until Simon D. puts out a press release or puts up a website, I don’t know where Paranormal Utopia is getting its info…in fact, it’s as murky as the waters of Loch Ness.

His father, Tim Dinsdale, is one of the small number of hardcore legends among monster hunters. In 1960, the elder Dinsdale shot what is probably the most widely discussed film footage of what might be a monster at Loch Ness, which was analyzed much over the years and often found by analysts to be, er, compelling.

At least as many critics found it debunkable, but no hoax has been revealed and no two sources agree on what the thing is — a fact made more difficult by the fact that, according to loch-ness.org, the Dinsdale family seems to disdain the film’s use or distribution.

A reasonably good analysis of the film can be found at nessie.org.uk, where it is concluded that what Dinsdale saw was “an ordinary object” (ie, a small wooden boat). After having the film submitted to them, the RAF determined that it was neither beast nor boat, but an unknown inanimate object. Other viewers have claimed they see what looks like a plesiosaur, which is the most commonly mentioned candidate for a dinosaur that could have evolved into something like what people believe they’ve seen at Loch Ness.

Attempting to prove that what he had seen was, in fact, a cryptid, Dinsdale took part in more than 50 expeditions to Loch Ness during the remainder of his life (he died in 1987).

By the way, in case you don’t know, that iconic still image you’re probably used to seeing of the Loch Ness Monster is known as “The Surgeon’s Photo.” It was taken in 1933 and first brought Nessie to worldwide attention, though it was not the first image taken of Nessie. It was exposed as a hoax in 1994 when a man named Christian Spurling revealed before his death at age 90 that he had helped two conspirators, Colonel Robert Wilson and Spurling’s stepfather Maraduke Weatherell, to create the photo using a toy submarine and a fake sea serpent head.

Just to be clear, Dinsdale’s film is completely unconnected to the Surgeon’s Photo, but those are the two most widely discussed pieces of documentation cited in favor of a monster explanation of the Nessie phenomenon, making Dinsdale’s film the “best evidence.”

Dinsdale’s footage has never been exposed as a hoax, and is still considered by Nessie believers to be the best evidence extant. In fact, Cryptomundo calls its annual monster-hunter award the Dinsdale Memorial Award. I couldn’t find a copy of the entire Dinsdale film (which is about two minutes), but here’s what appears to be 13 practically useless seconds of it.

Tim Dinsdale wrote at least a half-dozen books on the subject, including The Leviathans, Monster Hunt, The Story of the Loch Ness Monster, Project Water Horse, and The Facts About Loch Ness and the Monster. In fact, so many of Dinsdale’s books have been released as “revised editions” and with different titles in different markets (the UK vs. North America, mostly) that it’s hard to tell just how many books he wrote.

For what it’s worth, I put a Google Alert out on Simon Dinsdale. If the intrepid detective slaps any pics of Nessie on Flickr…I’m there.

Tags: ,

Jonathan Winters is Still Alive?

December 30th, 2010 No comments

"New" in 2011.

Before I write another word, I must say that I consider it hugely rude to comment on older performers by saying, “That person’s still alive!?!?!?!?” I consider the general phenomenon of celebrity death watches to be of questionable taste — symptoms of a society that discards those who were once of value the second our attention wanders.

Performers who have delighted and inspired us are expected to vanish the second they get old and ugly — or, to put it another way, the second we don’t give a shit about them. I find that offensive; I bear no ill will toward, say, Steven Tyler or Courtney Love, so why should I wish to speculate on their potential to shuffle off this mortal coil any more than I would speculate on whether they’ll marry, breed with or break up with this or that fashion model, backup singer or Swedish bohunk?

Would doing so somehow make me feel more alive? Or does regarding all denizens of the show business world as pieces of meat who get born, grow up and die for the sole purpose of amusing us thoroughly devalue all human endeavor? Does it make the very fact of performance, whether it be a Beethoven sonata or a Johnny Carson skit, a stripper’s lap dance or a speed-fueled comedy monologue, utterly futile as a mode of expression and communication?

I vote the latter.

It is this utter credulousness that makes me do stuff like get excited when I hear that comedian Jonathan Winters is among the living, which is the only reason I would ever slap such a rude title on this post.

Yes, it’s true. I felt a vague sense of euphoria when I spotted Jonathan Winters mugging at me from a Facebook ad. It was weird.

The ad told me, “Yes, he’s still alive!”

I thought to myself, “Wow, he’s still alive!?! That’s really wonderful. I love Jonathan Winters!”

Why did I think that? Your guess is as good as mine; I don’t love Jonathan Winters. In fact, I don’t give a damn about Jonathan Winters, other than I imagine he’s probably a reasonably nice guy, and he’s never done anything to screw me over, so I’m glad to hear he’s alive because, generally speaking, being sorry he’s not dead would be creepy.

But it wouldn’t be creepy because I have any personal investment in Jonathan Winters; it’d be creepy in the same way it would be creepy to wish death upon some guy I had a pleasant conversation or two with at a stamp-collecting party. Insofar as I’ve ever had an opinion on Jonathan Winters, the opinion has been “Oh, there’s that guy again.”

That’s how I felt any of the thirty times I remember seeing him on Love Boat (a show that, to my knowledge, he was never on), any of the forty times I just KNOW I saw him on Fantasy Island (on which, again, he never guested), or any of the myriad times he was on Laugh-In saying “Sock it to me!” (that was Nixon).

I do love, just on principle, that Winters a veteran of vaudeville (which he’s not), that he appeared once on Hee-Haw (which he didn’t), and that he played the Dad on the animated sitcom Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (that was Tom Bosley).

Apparently my memory is correct on at least a few fronts, however — which is a relief; I was getting pretty worried that I’d remember serving with him in World War II or something. Furthermore, I discover I do give a damn about Jonathan Winters — at least enough to write a blog post about how weird it is that a 2007 documentary about him is on Facebook.

Anyway, the documentary now advertising on facebook is 2007′s Certifiably Jonathan. The title is surely a reference to the fact that Winters was institutionalized in the 1950s for a nervous breakdown, about he did comedy routines in 1960 — which, for what it’s worth, is pretty bad-ass; back then, people didn’t talk about their mental illness. Suddenly I love Jonathan Winters! I love him more than I love Hollywood Squares!

Thankfully, a few things I remember about the esteemed Mr. Winters do happen to be correct. Winters was, in fact, in the delightful ’63 yock-fest It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; he was a pool player in an old Twilight Zone with Jack Klugman; he was indeed in 1966′s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming; he really did sell Hefty Bags; he was, in fact, Mork & Mindy‘s alien space baby. In the midst of all my murky Jonathan Winters memories bubbling up from my enormous mental reservoir of Things That Never Happened, I have to say that I’m most glad I didn’t hallucinate him as Robin Williams’s hatched-not-born alien space baby. That woulda been weird.

However, the  film’s proclamation that it’s “Coming in 2011, [a] new film” is sort of disingenuous. It’s apparently just being released or re-released on DVD or something; in its urgency to convince me that a four-year-old film is a new film, the publicists have failed to tell me why the hell I’m supposed to care that Jonathan Winters was alive and making movies four years ago, other than because not caring would be four-years-ago-worth of vaguely creepy.

But this is not “a new film.” I don’t begrudge the promoters from wanting people to see this damn thing (that is, after all, their job). But it once again smacks me in the face with the filthy lying nature of all PR. Why, oh why, must publicists treat Google, IMDB and Wikipedia like things only underground hackers with pink hair and facial piercings know how to use?

Anyway, after ridiculing it heartlessly, and discovering that Winters had the brass ones to publicly make light of his own mental illness in 1960, I now feel duty-bound to see the thing, if only to relive Jonathan’s greatest moments on Hee-Haw.

It is mildly helpful that the Facebook page asked people to post their favorite Jonathan clip, which helped me remember that not everything that happened to me before 1980 was something I watched on TV. Some stuff I saw in the theater.

The film features appearances by Mork, Howie Mandel, Nora Dunn, Sarah Silverman, Tim Conway, Jeffrey Tambor, Jimmy Kimmel, Rob Reiner, Ernie Hudson, Sheena Easton, and many more. It’s an absolute parade of media celebrities I’m vaguely aware of.

There are also, apparently, a whole damn shitload of Arquettes in the thing. But those people are a whole ‘nother post.

The Holsman High-Wheeler

December 29th, 2010 No comments

Spotting this vintage 1909 ad for sale on EBay reminded me how much I love the Brass Era of automobile manufacturing, and the Holsman High-Wheeler in particular. If you have the brass, you can put in a bid for it; it’s up for bidding until the middle of January, and the bid at press time is a mere $36.95 — a pittance for a hundred-year-old newspaper ad, right?

The Brass Era is one of the names for the pre-World War I period when cars were fielded with many brass fittings. The Holsman model was part of a class of American cars known as high wheelers that were shaped, more or less, like the earlier horse-drawn buggies. Their high wheels (with solid rubber tires) made it easier to drive over the very rough roads that had been designed for horses, and for horse-drawn carriages with wooden wheels. Many of those tracks still had the ruts left by said wooden wheels.

Controlled by joystick, the Holsman High Wheeler, manufactured by Chicago’s Holsman Automobile Company in Chicago from 1901 to 1910. It was controlled by joystick, rather than wheel, like many old cars. According to HolsmanAutomobile.com, a tribute and resource page for collectors and historians, the motto of the company was “High Wheels Travel All Roads Because All Roads Are Made To Be Traveled By High Wheels.” Holsmans are rare. Of at least one model, the 10K, there is only one example in existence.

Creative Commons image by James Tworow

The Holsman page has some wonderful excerpts from period descriptions of the car. Here’s a sample that helps give you a sense of what it must have been like to operate one of those beauties:

The gasoline tank is placed in the seat back.  Steering is by means of a horizontal lever, similar to those used by many of the electric vehicles.  Throttling is accomplished by twisting the end of the steering handle.  The gear changing is done by means of a small hand lever shifting a short distance along the front of the seat.  A large side lever swings the countershaft to start, stop and reverse the movement of the vehicle in the manner previously explained.  The springs are all full elliptic, and the carriage is claimed to be absolutely vibrationless.  In front of the dash is a compartment, which holds the batteries and furnishes a storage space in addition.  There is also room for storage behind the seat.  The forward mudguards are arranged to swing with the front wheels.  A tool box is arranged under the floor just back of the dash.  The weight is about 900 pounds.  No differential is used, as the belts will slip enough to accomplish the object sought.

…Is it just me? Does that make you long for the glorious stink of mud and cow manure as you race at a breakneck speed of eight miles per hour to stop that scoundrel Dr. Berpopple from tying your fiancee to the train tracks so she can’t inherit the mining concessions from her ill father…or what?

High Wheels Travel All Roads Because All Roads Are Made To Be Traveled By High Wheels.”

Momocreatura Jewelry: Death Becomes Cute Overload

December 29th, 2010 No comments

Momocreatura Hanged Owl Pin

It’s certainly true that many of us girlier girls – even those of us with guns and motorcycles – love pretty shiny jewelry. And like, totally cute little animals. But not all girls who love the shiny shiny also love adorable roadkill presented as strange and unsettling macabre bestiary mythology, so perhaps the items from Momocreatura (jewelry design) are for that rare babe who squeals with glee at both LOLcat and puss-oozing zombie alike.

Momocreatura’s fantastical creations are impossibly whimsical and frankly disturbing, which also makes them pretty delightful. In a twisted way. Notably, the Nearly Dead series. Think Alice in Wonderland taxidermy. A Momocreatura brooch boasts little owls dangling by neck from nooses; squirrels made of silver stand stolidly, waiting with axe in hand. Stud earrings are axes and the savaged heads of woodland animals; on a silver chain are strung furry cuties such as bunnies and mice suspended by the holes in their hearts. Cheerful. We love it.

* Facebook: Momocreatura

X-Wave Mind Interface Device for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

December 28th, 2010 No comments

Screencap from a creepy X-Wave promotional video.

The X-Wave headset is a funky little gadget for Apple devices that a story yesterday on Huffington Post (referencing a Mashable piece from Sunday) claims offers “Mind Control” for the iPhone. A piece back in September on Switched.com said the same thing.  These guys clearly haven’t got the faintest idea what is meant by the term “Mind Control” — but then, who does? When I think “mind control for the iPhone,” I think “Mistress Hortencia commands you to make a donation via PayPal,” not “Think really hard and you can make the little sphere dance around the screen.”

For what it’s worth, during the September round of coverage for this baby, Engadget got it partly right, by not headlining their story with anything about “mind control.” What they did say, however, is that the X-Wave ap lets you “control your iPhone with your noodle,” which is equal amounts of bullshit. What it does, supposedly, is let you control the X-Wave ap with your noodle. If you could think a phone number and have your iPhone dial it, that would be far more impressive. Check out these bizarrely perky promotional videos for the thing:

Feel free to vote in the comments on which one is creepier (my vote’s for the first one, by far).

That ap, by the way, is available at iTunes. You can currently buy one model of the X-Wave, with three more promised “soon.”

Here’s what Engadget had to say about the X-Wave back in September:

As you might expect, the headset makes use of the NeuroSky technology that we’ve seen several times through the years and will be made available with a number of apps upon its release next month including a game, dedicated training app, a music controller (which will let you compare brainwaves with other XWave users, interestingly), and an “Om Meditation Timer.” If none of those titles have captured your imagination, you’ll be able to write your own apps with the device’s SDK.

[Link.]

According to an unreferenced statement on  Wikipedia, NeuroSky uses “small electrical neural impulses generated by thought and mental state,” which makes it essentially an electroencephalograph. You can find out more about Neurosky as it’s used for medical applications at the Neurosky Brain-Computer Interface Technologies website.

Emotiv launched a similar device last year, the Emotiv EPOC Neuroheadset. Retailing for $299, it uses 14 sensors instead of what appears to be eight on the $100 X-Wave. Also, the EPOC is wireless (the X-Wave headset is wired).

While the EPOC was covered heavily in the gaming press, it also claims to offer “Life changing applications for disabled patients,” and, disturbingly, claims as one of its potential applications:

Market Research & Advertising – get true insight about how people respond and feel about material presented to them. Get real-time feedback on user enjoyment and engagement.

Got the Orwell Chills, anyone? I’m not sure what freaks me out more — the idea of comparing brainwaves with other X-Wave users, or of having a market research company strap me screaming into an EPOC so they can know what I really want from a soft drink before I do.

Once the OKCupid interface gets written — that’s when we really have to worry.

You can get a sense of just how hard the Emotiv headset is to control in this video, via a PCAuthority interview with the Emotiv co-founder Nam Do, where a guy tries to rotate Stonehenge:

…nonetheless, since all EEG-based devices reportedly get much easier to use with practice, the experienced user will likely have a different experience once a practical ap is used.

Strangely, I remember stuff like this from my childhood, when Mr. Spock promised me that biofeedback could “reduce muscular tension, redirect blood flow, and perform feats previously thought impossible”:

Biofeedback as a class of skill-building activities, by the way, doesn’t just rely on brainwaves, but also involves the control of such things as muscle tone, skin temperature, heart rate, perspiration, etc — mostly involuntary responses that can become slightly voluntary with practice.

The Night They Burgled the Spy Store

December 27th, 2010 No comments

Screenshot from Spymicro's website.

Personally, I consider it in mildly bad taste to laugh at “stupid criminals,” unless they’re Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run.

So I’ll tell you from the outset that in this case I’m not laughing. I feel this incident reflects an important shift in the history of surveillance.

Remember when Google CEO Eric Schmidt told us if we didn’t want someone to know we were doing something, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place? Well, in much the same way that the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 warrantless wiretap program was clearly illegal, widely covered in the press AND failed to produce a single actionable piece of intelligence, this incident shows that all the cameras and/or news coverage in the world can’t necessarily stop someone from getting away with it.

In short, if it’s not on YouTube, it didn’t happen, but even if it is, it may not matter. Crimes committed in public can go unpunished.

Well, the two burglars in the footage via the San Gabriel Valley Tribune are on YouTube, or at least its mainstream-news-media Southern California equivalent. Their careers in burglary took them to Spymicro on Ramona Blvd in Irwindale — a store that sells surveillance equipment. The proprietor apparently leaves the cameras on overnight.

A total of four cameras captured the late-night action as the burglars, who were not wearing masks, stole a total of eight video cameras and two DVRs, for a total take of no more than $2,600 (plus about a thousand dollars to the front door, according to the owner). Sounds like it was probably a couple of their value-priced four-camera packages, eh?

The whole thing lasted for two minutes, and even so, store owner Jerry Chen feels he didn’t get either burglar’s good side:

Chen said he plans to place additional cameras outside his store, and install a sturdier door leading into his showroom.

…which just goes to prove my point that crimes committed in public may go unpublished, ’cause, y’see:

…Though the video feeds have clear shots of the suspects’ faces, police have not been able to identify them and are hoping a member of the public will recognize them.

…Which seems like a pretty weak endorsement of the whole concept of video surveillance as law enforcement — but hey, it’s not like we’re British, right?

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer Marry Amid New Orleans Flash Mob, Celebrate by Staging Labyrinth With Sock Puppets

December 26th, 2010 No comments

There is a certain subset of the human race for whom viewing David Bowie’s performance in 1986′s Labyrinth was a coming-of-age experience that defined not only sensuality, but life itself. In fact, had the universe not dictated, before its inception, that fourteen billion years later there would be a David-Bowie-as-Jareth, these folks assert, there never would have been a Big Bang. In the same way Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter inspired and inspires star-struck fandangos in the delirious faithful, The Goblin King, with his mullet and his eye makeup, is what it’s all about. And when I say what it’s all about, I mean what. It’s. ALL. About.

Weirdly, all those people seem to also love Neil Gaiman.

Well, leave it to Amanda Palmer of Boston’s Weimarpunk outfit the Dresden Dolls to ask Gaiman, who happens to be her new husband, to walk a mile in Bowie’s schlong, alongside sock puppets — in Edinburgh, no less — in this hilarious fan video/parody that damn near tops the Original Pink Five. It is featured prominently on Palmer’s YouTube channel, and was also distributed by Twitter, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook and blog post, in the kind of social-publishing “Take this! And that! And this! And some of this! And one of these!” that the pair specializes in. If you’re one of the faithful, you got it a couple of days earlier, on Palmer’s email list, which you should join if you’re into that sort of thing.

By the way, get your mind out of the gutter! A “schlong” is a mullet — that’s all! I have no idea if Bowie rents out his actual schlong, but I wouldn’t count on it. Besides, the line would be around the block.

As I was saying before I was interrupted by your filthy ruminations, Gaiman and Palmer are both known for dishing out beaucoups fan service — obsessive blogging and Tweeting, free songs, free stories, videos, personal messages and interactions, and frequent responses to fan questions — even, painstakingly, the rude ones. The two of them are poster children for social networking and new media as iconoclastic art forms, not to mention an ongoing Blitz of fan-appreciation.

This particular bit of iconoclasm is presented by Palmer, Gaiman, and the rest of the video’s crew with a hearty “A Very Bowie Xmas Gift… Love, AFP, Mr. Neil Gaiman, and Team Chaos Merry Xmas and Kwanzaa to all!!!” — perhaps in lieu of a wedding reception where they could invite all their fans. As I mentioned, the G-man is Palmer’s new husband. The pair announced their engagement back in January, 2010 in a co-Tweeting, multi-blogging jitterbug orgy. According to Offbeat Bride, they tied the knot in New Orleans last month for Gaiman’s birthday, with Gaiman in top hat and Palmer in statue-drag, as revealed in this video shot by Cat Mihos:

…but then, as it turns out from Gaiman’s blog post on the wedding, the whole thing was a surprise to him. He writes:

Next time we get married, I’ll marry the lady, not the statue, and there will be invited people and not a flash mob, and I’ll know it’s happening in advance, and there will be a paper and it will be legally recognised, but I cannot imagine it will be any more joyous than this was.

Surprise wedding, eh? Well, when you’re marrying the MC from Cabaret, such things tend to happen; Palmer recently completed a two-month run in that role at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Having not seen it, I can only offer unsupported speculation, but that’s my specialty; Bigfoot (who attended the premier) just texted me that Palmer was born to play that role as surely as Bowie was born to play The Goblin King.

Offbeat Bride directs me to Palmer’s blog post on the wedding, which is absolutely uproarious (as is much of Palmer’s blogging), as well as Kyle Cassidy’s wedding album.

A Techyum congratulations to the lot of ‘em!

Meghan McCain’s Christmas Artillery

December 26th, 2010 No comments

You know, you find out some completely random stuff when you start leapfrogging around Twitter on Christmas.

Having somehow missed the fact that the Meghan McCain, the 26-year-old conservablogger spawn of don’t-ask-don’t-tell hater John McCain, wrote a 2008 children’s book called My Dad, John McCain (or maybe not having cared enough to remember it), I’m just now given to understand that while I was sleeping off my electoral hangover, the littlest McCain has become a voice for “progressive” members of the Republican party.

Should you worry that conservative females are merely sock puppets for a male-dominated party run by brain-dead sexist pigs and packed with retrograde thinking, Ms. McCain’s popularity proves the importance of women in Republican politics. Her progressive conservative ideas engender exactly the same support and attention that conservatives gave Sarah Palin:

Go ahead, pervert. Google it. I’m a Democrat, I would never.

Nor would my unwillingness to heap sexist bazoomba-searches even on a goofy figure like the pro-gay, anti-Arizona-immigration-law McCain, be paired with a willingness to treat her any more seriously than I would treat any conservablogger. My refusal to treat her as a piece of Google Meat, the way I might be tempted to treat, say, a female particle physicist, robot engineer, parachutist or computer hacker would not be altered by the fact that Ms. McCain doesn’t like Ann Coulter, is lukewarm on the Palinmonster and was apparently sent to her room by the conductors of her father’s wet hot steaming godawful indecisive bloody slaughtered mess of a presidential campaign.

Am I swayed by the strangely telling fact that that last article, in which she, conveniently after-the-fact (like ALL insiders in failed presidential campaigns), reveals the split between her father’s campaign and herself, was in the New York Times’ Fashion & Style section, a fact that might annoy Hillary Clinton? Am I swayed by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa’s assertion that McCain is a cultural force on par with Palin, Lady Gaga, Steig Larsson’s fictional bisexual computer-hacking protagonist Lisbeth Salander and (uhhhh….) Julian Assange’s reputed sexual assault victims?

Not at all.

After all, God and I have a deal. Every time I say ANYTHING nice about a conservative, He kills as many kittens as He can get His hands on. And the Big Cheese can generally get His hands on a whole lot of kittens, on pretty short notice. So don’t think I’m saying anything nice about McCain at all.

But what I will say something nice about is the delightful weapon McCain got from Santa for Christmas:

I am charmed, I tell you, charmed, to know that Twitter feels duty-bound to warn me this tweet might have “offensive media” attached to it. Far from being offended by the “Liberal Media” McCain posted, I am excited to hear the Republicans are boning up on their single-action shooting for the ’12 campaign, when hopefully lots of Republican “cowboys” will intelligentize the political discourse.

Surely Ms. McCain will then get to prove whether or not she’s as much of a “double action” maverick as her father — ie, whether she’ll go ape-shit over how much she loves Palin in order to make nice with the “party faithful,” exactly the way her father did with George W. Bush after the 2000 campaign. Anyway, it’s a .45 Long Colt Ruger Vaquero, blued. Check it:

Photo from Meghan McCain's Twitter/YFrog posting.

That’s a tasty game-getter. Lets hunt some elephants!

Tags: ,

Music For Music Nerds: The Chapman Stick

December 25th, 2010 5 comments

Never heard of the Chapman Stick? You’re not alone. You could spend your whole life playing Armenian hammered dulcimer, Swedish twelve-string baritone ukelele and death-klezmer diddley bow, and still scratch your head when you look at the Chapman Stick.

You would, however, see none other than Patrick Stewart himself playing one in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, though the scene above was cut out of the theatrical release and can be viewed only in the extended version.

The Chapman Stick is a musical instrument, in case you were just reaching for your Nerd Phrasebook. It’s not a guitar, and in fact is played quite differently than a guitar, but it could, properly, be considered a guitar derivative, and all the cats who seem to groove on it are guitarists.

Typically, it’s fitted with magnetic pickups like an electric guitar — in fact, given its typical playing technique, I would have thought  an acoustic Chapman Stick would be impossible, or damn near. This cat Bob Culbertson seems to disagree with me, but as far as I can tell, the device below is actually an acoustic-electric, not just a straight-up acoustic, Chapman Stick. Here he is playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” which is sort of a song made for this kind of madness:

Invented in the 1970s by a jazz guitarist named Emmett Chapman, “The Stick,” as it’s often called, developed from Chapman’s guitar-playing technique of “Free Hands,” which involves smacking the strings of a guitar at the frets in a way that looks, to my eyes, like what the metal boys like to call a “hammer-on.” If you compare the two videos above, you’ll note that Captain Picard is fretting the thing in more of a traditional guitar technique — assuming you have the faintest idea what I’m talking about in the first place, or even give a damn.

The short version, for non-guitarists: guitarists hold strings down with their left hand and strum or pluck with their right (or the other way around, if they’re playing left-handed). The pickups of an electric guitar do not respond to sound, but to the magnetic field of the metal strings; therefore, very little vibration is actually needed to produce sound. The Chapman Stick is played with the fingers of both hands going sorta thunka-thunka to make noise.

That’s why an acoustic one seems bizarre to me in engineering terms…but whatever; who the hell do I look like, Django Reinhardt?

Yes, that's Nick Beggs from Kajagoogoo, playing the Chapman Stick. Huh!?!? on many levels. Creative Commons photo by Jackie Kever.

Anyway, this fascinating and improbable device has been played to spacey-dreamy effect by the likes of Tony Levin (who played with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel), Alphonso Johnson of ’70s jazz-fusion band Weather Report, and Nick Begg of Kajagoogoo, who violates every iota of fashion sense in the above photo while playing one in concert. Chapman himself has reportedly played it in a variety of freaky-deakey fusion projects; you’ll hear Levin playing one on  Pink Floyd’s album A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

The Chapman Stick was introduced to the masses by its inventor on a 1974 episode of What’s My Line?, of which, Wikipedia tips me off, you can find video here if you’re into that sort of thing.

You don’t need to go all the way to What’s My Line, though, to be bored-to-tears-if-you’re-not-a-guitarist by Chapman. The inventor explains his instrument on video here at YouTube, including how to do “matched reciprocal tuning,” how the “beauty of the uniform tuning,” and “I have a nice four, I’ll add on a 13th from the melody string, and I realized I couldn’t stretch a melody string this far…because this is a fretboarded instrument, and….pretty soon the Major 3rd…and it keeps getting lower in the sequence…flipped my B strings….” ZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZzzzzz….

Oh, sorry, I dozed off there for a minute. Anyway, one of the most commonly seen online videos of Chapman Stick is the song “One Dream,” played by a guy named Rob Martino. A commenter about this version of Martino’s song says “Where the iTunes version is like a tuxedo, this is like the most comfortable pair of well used shoes,” so you know it’s got to be good, right? That’s what I want my music to sound like: old shoes. Anyway, here’s Martino:

More of Martino’s songs for the Chapman Stick can be found on YouTube, and if you’d like the Non-Used-Shoes version of that composition above, there’s no need to get it with pushy DRM, provided you hate the baby WikiLeaks. Better yet, go straight to Martino’s website.

If that is just plain Not Enough Nerd for you, check out the footage below of the Cantina Song from Star Wars played on Chapman Stick, complete with pseudo-bass solo.

That’ll get you started on the Chapman Stick Related Features Wikihole, where you’ll stumble on such gems as Chapman Stick renditions of the Super Mario Brothers theme song and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

By the way, here’s that video of Chapman explaining the thing in case you’re clear on what a 13th is (and care):