Monday, April 14, 2014

A Vision of Howling Death to Kick Off Your Monday

Modified an image from the Wikipedia page on the Gardens of Bomarzo:

The unpleasant restaurant customer depicted is Ocrus, an early Roman death god, whose name shares an etymological history with ogre, orc and orca. That last one is especially interesting, considering the movement to use call these sea mammals orcas rather than killer whales. The former may sound less predatory, but on the etymological level, it's just as bad.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fire Flowers

This is what I do when I’m bored, when I’m suffering from writer’s block, when I’m waiting for programs to download, when I’m wanting to see something I should have seen back when eight-bit graphics were considered very of-the-moment.

Pixel art, previously:

Friday, April 11, 2014

How This National Geographic Cover Came to Be (A Work of Fiction)

First, the cover in question:

And now the scene: an editorial meeting in the main office of National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington D.C. All relevant departments direct their attention to the editor in chief, who asks what species could most deserve the cover of the long-awaited exotic pets issue. The room immediately erupts into frenzied suggestions. “Lions!” “Antelopes!” “Perhaps a lemur wearing a dog collar?” “I like ibexes!” But eventually, the rumble dies down, as each attendee realizes that his or her idea doesn’t perfect capture the spirit of the issue. A timid voice from emerges from the back of the room.

“What about hedgehogs?”

The rumble returns, but with a different focus. “Oh, there she goes again.” “Sit the fuck down, Nedra.” “She’s always talking about fucking hedgehogs.” “Who hired Nedra, anyway?” The editor-in-chief indulges her: “What is it about hedgehogs that makes you think they deserve the cover, Nedra?”

Right hand tugging nervously at her left elbow, Nedra begins. “Well, I’ve always thought they were neat. They are kind. They are clean. And I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but there’s more National Geographic could be doings for them…”

The editor-in-chief nods cautiously.

“And also my hedgehog’s name is Mrs. Bananas and she eats bananas and I have to keep the lights off in my house so she feels safe and she also likes peas.”

The rumble begins again. “Fuck this idiot.” “She’s insane!” “I think she’s simple.” “I’ll bet she doesn’t even own a fucking hedgehog, this dumb, crazy liar.” Realizing she’s losing her chance, Nedra gives it one last shot, her voice no longer timid.

“And also sometimes Mrs. Bananas rolls into a ball and it makes her sneeze and it’s cute and also I disposed of all the photo files.”

The room quiets. The EIC: “What did you say, Nedra? You got rid of our photos?”

“Umm. Maybe.”

“Young lady, are you saying you got rid of each and every photo that National Geographic has or ever will run of a wild animal?”

“… Yes. I threw them all into the Potomac last night. Mrs. Bananas and I broke in. No one notices us. You have no other options now.”

“But why would you do that?”

“Well… because now you have no choice but to acknowledge Mrs. Bananas. And hedgehogs everywhere.”

The editor-in-chief looks sternly at Nedra for a few moments before once again nodding his head. “Well-played, Nedra. Mrs. Bananas shall have her day.” And then the rest of the National Geographic begins a begrudging slow clap. As the EIC walks over and puts his hand on Nedra’s shoulder, she scoops Mrs. Bananas out from the pocket of her olive-green blazer. She cuddles the little critter next to her face,weeping tears of joy. And in a voice almost too quiet to be heard, she says, “We did, Mrs. Bananas. We did it.”

{ FIN }

And that, my friends, is the only way I can imagine how anyone thought that the wildest, most exotic animal National Geographic could put on the cover of this issue was a fucking hedgehog.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Encyclopedia Drew and the Confounding Cleanser

Below appears an advertisement for soap. I’m not sure when it comes from, and I’m not sure where it began its second life online as a quaint, re-postable novelty. (I first saw it on Tumblr, and the original Tumblr-er didn’t see fit to include details.) The advertisement is a rebus that I think I’ve solved, though I’m not sure. Your input is appreciated.

The mystery crew’s best stab at it: “Trying to be wise, you / don’t at once succeed / You won’t be long before you do if you this information read / All use Davids Prize Soap, for thus they save in many ways / They use no other / Finding that no one other pays.”

Of course, that doesn’t entirely make sense, though we can maybe forgive the demands of the rebus for some of the more awkward constructions. I’m bothered by that dented “U” in the second line. It seems like it should actually represent the word it, but I can’t for the life of me imagine what that symbol is supposed to be.

Also mysterious? That brand name: Davids Prize Soap. Thought apparently spelled with the apostrophe elsewhere, searching online for more info on the subject may in fact lead you to the Wikipedia page for King David, where it describes a very unusual sort of prize. “Saul made David a commander over his armies and offered him his daughter Michal in marriage for bringing one hundred foreskins of the Philistines but David brought back two hundred, saying ‘God was with me.’” So there you go. David’s prize was foreskins. Maybe you can use this old-timey soap to clean your two hundred foreskins.


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Hootbot’s Big Adventure

You may remember that some time ago I did what many high-rollers do and purchased a robot owl. It’s been perched on my dining room table ever since, spying on me with its glowing, red eyes. In my post about Hootbot, I expressed some frustration about how he doesn’t perform most of the activities I associate with owls. He doesn’t hoot or screech, but just kind of dumbly whistles. He doesn’t fly so much as flutter this plastic wings. And he surely doesn’t impart wisdom, which I could really use, seeing as how I spent money on a robot owl. It turns out I’d sold Hootbot short, however, because he can do one thing I wasn’t aware of.

A comment on the previous post alleged that Hootbots could scuttle around if removed from their pedestals. I immediately tried. This would have explained the wheels on his bottom, after all, but he didn’t act any differently on the floor than he did on the pedestal. It was only when someone else tried did he bop about aimlessly, Roomba-style. I felt betrayed, to be honest. It was a reverse Michigan J. Frog moment, initially, but I eventually figured out Hootbot’s hang-up: He needs perfectly smooth surfaces, for his wheels are a little jacked, a little needy, and he simply can’t navigate the subtle grooves of my floorboards.

So here, then, is Hootbot doing his thing, charging toward the camera at a leisurely pace but with menace in his heart nonetheless.

Trigger warning: Robots, owls, robot owls, death as a result of antiquated technology, atonal whistling. I won’t say it escalates quickly, but it does escalate over the course of two minutes.

It goes without saying, but now I can appreciate the joys of parenthood.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Attack of the Tan, Dozing Dog

As I rolled into work, I spotted the Animal Control van also entering my office parking lot. "Oh, today will be fun," I said to myself, as I wondered how I would react to a bunch of angry monkeys occupying the garage, stripping windshield-wipers off cars and using them like swords. Alas, there were no monkeys — there never are — and when I reached the exit stairs, I saw the Animal Control officer heading toward the back of the garage, which overlooks a grassy hillside that approximates actual nature, at least by the standards of the 134-adjacent Burbank.

(it looks like this, though less verdant now as a result of our droughtpocalypse.)
And then, about at eye level, sitting placidly on the hillside was a single coyote. The officer clapped his hands twice. "Go on! You go!" The coyote stood up and walked a few paces. Two more claps. "Go on! You go!" The coyote calmly ascended the hill and trotted into the nearby park. The cop turned around and headed toward the van.

Me: "Did you just come here to shoo away a coyote?"

Him: "Yeah, someone saw him and got scared."

Me: "But he was just sitting there. He wouldn't have bothered anyone."

Him: "Honestly, the coyotes help control the squirrels and rats that live here. So you're better off with them."

Me: "Oh, totally. Couldn't you have told the person who called that they're dumb?"

Him: "People just don’t know." He shrugged.

I'd like to think that the coyote left the scene with the same take-away the cop and I did: "That was kind of pointless."

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Video Game That Gregor Mendel Never Asked For

I stumbled across the box art for a 1989 Nintendo game that I barely remember — I only rented it, just the one time — but the sight of the cover graphics took me back. Really, 1989 marked an aesthetic sweet spot: when the brightness of the 80s was beginning to give way to the grittier 90s.

via game abyss
I may even prefer the in-game rendering of the box art — or at least the Japanese art that clearly inspired the American box art.

via hardcore gaming 101
You can see how the American artist tweaked the original characters in an effort to better suit American gamers. It’s funny now to consider how “Japanese-looking” art would ever be considered a minus, as far as marketing to video game nerds goes. But hey, it happened: Consider the Japanese box art for the first Mega Man against the famously misguided “appealing for Americans” version, and then marvel at how much better the European release of the game got it.

The Mendel Palace art, in either form, takes me back. It will never fail to take me back. There’s even something to be said for the TV commercial.

It’s actually surprising to me that this game actually got an on-air commercial. I don’t think I ever saw it back at the time Hudson Soft was rooting for Mendel Palace to become a big hit. It wasn’t enough of a success to spawn a sequel, but the game’s developer, Game Freak, kept at it and eventually created the Pokemon franchise, and now grown people wear Pikachu hoodies out and about as if that were a normal thing to do.

The game had you solving puzzles by skittering around a grid of squares, and I have to wonder if the game’s title comes from the vague resemblance to Mendel squares. (Hardcore Gaming 101 points out that the original Japanese title was Quinty and that the original aesthetic skews way more cutesy.) With a six-by-five grid, these aren’t squares, however. Yeah, these kids are going to come out looking funny.

via hardcore gaming 101
Cute and colorful, but funny-looking nonetheless.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Battle of the Ambiguously Sexual Signifiers, Anime-Style

Honestly, I don’t know enough about anime to proclaim any given scene the most homoerotic-ever. (Someone else has already done that research, I’m sure, and they probably already follow me on Tumblr. Tumblr? Have you suggestions?) However, I know an opportunity for over-reading when I see one, and the 80s action series Saint Seiya is fruitful, so to speak.

In the universe of Saint Seiya (or Knights of the Zodiac, depending on what translation you’re watching), saints are armor-clad superheroes who derive their powers from constellations, because no one on the Japanese side of this project knew a Catholic person.

This scene, which comes from the series’ sixth episode, the pits the Andromeda saint — pink armor with an especially busomy-looking breastplate, and don’t forget that the constellation is named for Greek mythology’s No. 1 damsel in distress — against the purple-clad Unicorn saint. The more passive of the two, Andromeda resists fighting, but he’s goaded by Unicorn, whose most outstanding wardrobe feature, it should be noted, is a single protruding horn. “It sounds like the ladies really love you, don’t they, pretty boy?” Unicorn taunts. Andromeda is unflustered. “I’m sad, and filled with emptiness,” he says, which is clunky entendre but which still gets the point across. The two engage. We get a pink-hued freeze frame of the two intertwined — Unicorn looking focused and aggressive, Andromeda looking serene, even pleased.

Andromeda, however, flips the script when he proves more powerful by virtue of his telekinetic control of a chain — a long, snaking instrument that acts like an extension of his body and which has a pointed tip at the end. (“That chain! It’s like a living thing!”) The scene inexplicably shifts to a celestial backdrop, where he’s superimposed on an image of the Andromeda constellation. It’s a mix of signifiers — phallic weapon combined with maiden imagery. Time literally stands still. Unicorn persists in attacking, and Andromeda calmly sends the chains after him, penetrating him repeatedly. (“Of all the parts of the Nebula Chain, the top is the strongest!” Really.) Based on the noises you hear from the crowd (and the reaction shot you see of the Lady Purple Hair), it’s all being done for the delight of female spectators. You don’t hear a single male voice cheering.

The lesson? Appearances are deceiving, and the dude with flowing ladyhair may be the strongest one in the room.

That’s pretty loaded, just from the standpoints of gender and sexuality. I realize there are always problems in a person from one culture using his terms to analyze something produced by a second culture. But no matter how a Japanese audience would have read the scene back in 1986, this guy over in America in 2014 has a hard time not seeing a whole lot of sexual cues.

Why am I watching Saint Seiya in 2014? I don’t really know. I was trying to look up one minor trivia point and ended up finding a cache of the episodes available online. It turns out I like the look of Japanese animation from back when I was a kid even if I wasn’t watching it at the time. I don’t know why. Regardless, the combo of awkward translations plus bizarre line-readings makes for a more entertaining experience than you might think. Case in point: “My cosmos is about to explode,” which is either bad grammar or bad innuendo or both.

The less said about Death Queen Island, the better.

EDIT: I have encountered another.